Tess of the d’Urbervilles

by Thomas Hardy

I came back to this book – which I suppose I first read in my late teens – after hearing an analysis of it on BBC Radio 4’s In our time.  On the programme, the participants all spoke about the power of the novel’s setting, the descriptions of the countryside, and the value they had all found in reading it slowly, rather than rushing through as most of them felt they had done when reading it in their youth.

So I went to my Kindle collection of Hardy’s collected works, and read the novel slowly enough, relishing every page and the descriptions of the country settings, which are indeed beautifully and vividly presented.

The story is, on one level, harrowing.  There is much to shock: Alec’s seduction (or rape – the novel leaves this deliberately uncertain) and his subsequent pursuit of Tess; Clare’s abandoning of her after she opens her heart to him on their wedding night and reveals her past; Tess’s own parents’ lifestyle and expectations of their daughter.  Hardy knows how to tell a story, and the plot develops effortlessly to its inevitable harrowing conclusion.

I felt much more engaged in the story than on my previous reading, even though I knew what was going to happen.  I also felt, as an older adult, more understanding of the circumstances that drove the characters to behave the way they did, but less forgiving of their behaviour.

Holy Island

by L J Ross

A Kindle ‘cheapie’, heavily promoted and costing 99p.  I found this an easy read. It is a fairly standard murder mystery, with a love angle and an intriguing (and totally far-fetched) plot twist at the end.

The eponymous setting of the story has all the right elements: a close-knit community, a place inaccessible during certain hours of the day, each character a potential suspect. And then we have an off-duty detective with a troubled past, who develops a relationship with someone who, we suspect, may be the next victim unless DCI Ryan can get to her in time. Which, of course, he does.

Interesting to explore, as I did, the way books like this one are able to gain attention even though not available in print. Louise Ross, a former lawyer, clearly also knows something about marketing.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing to read any more books by this author.

Gate of Lilacs

by Clive James

Picked up in Booth’s bookshop during a brief stay in Hay-on-Wye.

James’ writing never ceases to amaze and enthral me.  The quality of his poetry and prose; the seemingly effortless, yet evidently very carefully studied choice of words and phrases; and the prolific volume of his writing, even just those books published in the past ten years, since his diagnosis with terminal illness.  That he is still alive, and still writing, is a real gift to readers.

This slim volume is a verse analysis of, and tribute to, Proust.  In a series of short chapters of verse, he analyses not only Proust’s epic novel, but his life and the cultural and historical influences of the society in which he lived.  I have only read the first two volumes of In search of lost time, and in English rather than the original French.  But I found I was able to follow James’ text, and his illuminating and in themselves interesting notes, quite easily.  I think this is a book that I will keep coming back to, as I have come back to Proust’s work itself.