It’s taken me a long time to review this book, considering when I finished it, simply because I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. It definitely had its ups and downs, and there are really disturbing moments that made me question if I liked this book at all. While it was mostly well written and enjoyable as a text, the characters and plot itself were terribly infuriating and it became a very frustrating read for me by the time I finally got to the end.
On a slightly unrelated note, I must apologize for my reviews lately. I’m trying to balance reading and school, and it’s much more difficult than I first imagined. These books I read for English aren’t ones that I have very many feelings about, and I recognize that my reviews suffer because of it. I hope to get back into reading more books that I truly enjoy and choose for myself, so my reviews will become engaging and interesting once again. So, until then (which will be soon, I promise!), please bear with me while I continue to write some shorter reviews about these works for class!
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- If I ever doubted Thomas Hardy’s ability as a writer, I would renounce those feelings now. Though I have read many of his poems over the years, this is my first novel from him and I was pleasantly surprised, especially considering how much I’ve disliked the reads from my English class lately. The pacing of the story was perfectly and it was laid out in an excellent way. It was engaging, and though it was long, it never felt slow. I really did enjoy reading it.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The characters of this book were absolutely nonsensical. I felt like I couldn’t relate to or empathize with anybody because they were all such idiots. Jude starts out this journey as a young boy, dreaming of college in Christminster. However, the charming and beautiful Arabella quickly pulls him off track, and then he marries her (only to have her leave him twenty pages later). Arabella was selfish and annoying, and you couldn’t really feel bad for Jude since he was an idiot, too. But just when you thought she was bad enough, Jude finally goes to Christminster and meets his cousin, Sue. Sue is…well, she’s a real piece of work. She’s shallow, self-centered, dangerously emotional, and she doesn’t really care who she hurts as long as she’s following her silly and infantile impulses. It might not be so bad if we didn’t experience the book mostly from Jude’s perspective and were forced to look at her as God’s greatest gift to humanity. He is ridiculously in love with her, but it’s impossible to see why. She flails around and drags Jude through the mud every time she feels like it, treating him like trash and screaming apologies the second he seems like he might not be able to take it anymore. I couldn’t stand her. For that reason, she made many scenes unbearable, and it was impossible to sympathize with Jude and Sue’s positions later in the novel. These are characters you need to understand and relate to, at least a little, but their likeable traits (if there are any in either of them) are completely lost.
- The warning here is that there’s a rather disturbing scene that involves Jude’s son (with Arabella) and his two other children (with Sue). Jude’s oldest son, whom they call Father Time (because he was never given a name by Arabella’s parents, with whom he lived), bemoans that they, as children, are a huge burden to their parents. Sue (in all her glory) agrees with him and mistakenly tells him that she’s going to have another baby. Father Time is absolutely distraught over this and goes to bed in an upset. In the morning, Sue and Jude go to the room to check on the children to find them all hanged. The two younger children were sleeping, meaning Father Time hung them himself—and he killed himself and left a note, saying, “Done because we are too menny.” I understand the backlash Hardy got for this. Not only are their children killed, but Sue also gives birth to a stillborn child later on. It’s just…as I said, disturbing. I felt like I might be sick to my stomach while I was reading it, and it just came out of nowhere. I’m honestly not sure what it could have possibly added to the story, and a child suicide where one adds nothing to a plot or character development is just sick. I wasn’t okay with it, as I’m sure many others weren’t.
Overall: As I said, there are pros and cons. The writing was nice and the pace was smooth, but the characters were so frustratingly stupid that you barely wanted to read about them. Not to mention the triggering scene midway through the novel. If you’re the sort to be easily frustrated by character actions, this probably isn’t the best book for you. However, if you’re a fan of (well written) classics and can usually look past general idiocy in characters you’re reading about, this might be worth a shot! However, in either case, I would think about whether or not you would be okay with reading about a child suicide, because it is deeply disturbing and triggering on several levels.