Book Review: Wessex Tales

As a kid, I read a lot of classics. I didn’t understand any of them, but I read them. I skimmed through a lot of the dialogue and vocabulary, and ended up with an impressive read list, but without connecting to the stories or the writing in any meaningful way. I didn’t even understand why these writers (and their works) were so celebrated.

Then, I lost my reading habit, and the few classics I tried to read bored me to tears. I couldn’t get past the first few pages, where the prose is quite tedious, as the story is being set up. I had become accustomed to the Internet’s mantra of hooking the reader in the first 3 seconds, and thus the ponderous, old-fashioned means of setting the stage and the context for a story fell flat.

I had all but given up on ever reading a classic ever again, till I at least regained some measure of my reading habit. While I wouldn’t say I am there 100%, I thought dipping my toe into classic literature with a book of short stories was a good way to begin.

And so I picked up Wessex Tales, read the the blurb saying that it was a mix of tragic and comedic stories by the master storyteller Thomas Hardy. I found the initial resistance to plot setting once again, but after the first few pages? I was HOOKED. I know understand the allure of classics.

Author: Thomas Hardy

Story: There are 7 stories in the book, and they vary wildly in subject. There are those that incorporate the occult, others that play on historical events, and more that have an exciting twist to them.

In short, the stories are completely independent of each other, but on finishing each one, one is left with a wistfulness and a desire to know more. Each story had enough potential to become a full novel in its own right.

Writing: The writing is incredible. Descriptions, characters, dialogues, vocabulary, segues, undercurrents, morals, and so much more besides, flow unstinted from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and page to page. I was in awe of this formidable artistry that wove events and characters into such a gorgeous narrative.

Due to the nature of the book, you are able to appreciate the sheer range this writer has, as each story is vastly different from its predecessor. I wouldn’t say there was an economy of words, but I would be hard-pressed to find any superfluous ones either. As a writer myself, I can only aspire to this sort of mastery.

Characters: Unbelievably complex characters, which develop in front of your very eyes. Each story has a few central protagonists, but there is no paucity of secondary ones. And to be able to intertwine each of the characters successfully, without losing any in the narrative or to loose ends is truly remarkable.

Pace: There is no set pace for all the stories. Some span decades, others a few days. The writing is consistent throughout, and therefore even though there are sometime gigantic leaps in time, there is no feeling of disorientation. I sped through the stories very quickly, feeling quite deflated when each was over due to my eagerness to read more.

Conclusion: I feel quite ill-equipped to review a book by an author of Hardy’s stature. It was an enjoyable, if not altogether happy read, but I later learned that his works tended to be either melancholic or downright tragic in style. I do wish some of the stories had ended on happier notes though, even as I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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