Centring on the quaint rural village of Mellstock, set deep within Hardy’s imagined and picturesque county of Wessex, the novel revolves around a double plot of the hopeful love story of Dick Dewey and Fancy Day and the tragic demise of the Mellstock Choir, and what the crumbling of long-held traditions means to the local community. The arrival of Mr Maybold, a new vicar with newfangled ideas, unsettles the local community with ideas of revolutionary change, in which the church and its generations-old choir are an anchor.
Feasting my eyes on the cover of this book just makes me want to go and sit under a tree and idly while away the hours betwixt reading and observing nature. I didn’t get around to indulging in any of the above but nevertheless enjoyed what I read.
Hardy has given us a short novel that is timeless, not only in the feel of the language but also in the story told. The way it’s written almost encourages the reader to take the time to stop and relish all the little features that the mind’s eye conjures up. I frequently caught myself peering at trees and enjoying the small and quite beleaguered nature that my abode is situated near.
The breeze had gone down, and the rustle of their feet and tones of their speech echoed with an alert rebound from every post, boundary-stone and ancient wall they passed, even where the distance of the echoes origin was less than a few yards.
The story centres around change, from the yearly seasons to the advent of modernity in varying and ever more intrusive ways. The slower more traditional way of life struggles valiantly against this ‘progress’ and brings home how much the innocent and rural life seems so much more preferable in these days of sensory overload and needless stress. Perhaps I am being overly romantic but I would prefer a life that felt poetic to a life with a job that means nothing and another night of bad television.
As far as plot goes, neither of the two threads are in any way dramatic, they have a gentle way of working themselves out, a bit like the traditional country way of things. The lighthearted nature of the story is replete with such gems as the obsessive scrutiny of any encounter with a potential love match and all the drama of bee keeping.
The Christmas section is a stand out for the gloriously festive feel but each season has its beauty brought to the fore, it is all very amiable and downright pleasant. Mellstock feels like its own isolated world, something akin to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, both of which are books I could hide in months.
I refuse (as far as possible) to give anything away, however the character of Fancy Day did start to grate on me after a while. Although none of the characters are explored to any great depth, they are honest what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of folk. Miss Day on the other hand comes across as shallow and vain and that became almost jarring when compared with the rest of the cast, however she is an outsider to the community and has her ideas about what is the ‘done thing’ so this is excusable but it does remain the one gripe I had with this book.
There is one plot point that bewildered me a little though and that was the ending which in many ways has a predictable conclusion which is also a little ambiguous but also one I find strangely fitting. For those of you that struggle with local colloquialisms there is a dialect glossary which will help with some of the more bewildering words that come up but It is a nice insight into local slang and the etymology of such words.