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Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Return of the Native

The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy, Alexander Theroux “Hurt so good
Come on baby, make it hurt so good”

- John Mellencamp

WUT? Well, reading Thomas Hardy novels always poses this kind of challenge. They hurt, and yet I keep coming back to him because they are indeed good and this kind of hurt is like a good exercise for your EQ. In term of language, I don’t think Hardy’s writing is particularly difficult to access. The more challenging aspects of his books are the initial meticulous scene setting and characters introduction chapters and, of course, the miserable situations that his characters get into.

When the feeling's gone and you can't go on It's tragedy”

Sorry, I just had a sudden attack of Beegeesitis. Anyway, I am always glad(ish) to be back in Hardyverse, better known as Wessex, a fictional region somewhere in the south of England. A lot of pastoral mayhem seems to take place here so it is probably not an ideal vacation destination (non-existence notwithstanding). In The Return of the Native Hardy again depicts what bad marriages can do. Clym Yeobright, the returning native of the novel’s title, marries the almost preternaturally beautiful Eustacia Vye who is very discontent with her rural surroundings. She yearns for the bright lights, big cities, iStores etc., preferably in Paris. However, she is not a femme fatale, she does her best to be a good, loving wife. Unfortunately her best is of a disastrously low standard and tragedy ensues.

Much of the tragedy stems from people being unable to speak their minds, to be honest, sincere and – most of all – forgiving. Where this novel really resonates with me is the relationship between Clym and his mother. They have a very close, loving relationship until Eustacia (inadvertently) comes between them. The mother, Mrs. Yeobright, has some very strong prejudices about people of ill repute and is very quick to pass judgment on them, her unyielding mentality eventually leads to her downfall. Eustacia’s inability to settle down, to compromise with her circumstances also leads to a lot of grief and much gnashing of teeth.

As usual Hardy’s characters are very believable and vivid, and it is interesting that there is no actual villain in this book. Some characters become antagonists of sort merely through very unwise decision making and impropriety. The hero of the book is also not Clym the protagonist, but a sincere, helpful and humble man called Diggory Venn who is a “reddleman” by profession. Basically, he goes around marking flocks of sheep with a red colour (a mineral called "reddle"). Not much call for such services these days I imagine, but it makes him a fair amount of money and also causes his entire body to be red coloured. It plays hell with his attempts at courting a certain young lady, but he eventually finds a way. According to Wikipedia Hardy had a tack on a happy ending for commercial purposes so not all the characters are down in the dumps by the end of the book. Left to his own devices he would rather depress the hell out of his readers.

Over all this is a typically depressing book by Thomas Hardy. Yet I really like it and recommend it for people who are not overly sensitive or those who are too insensitive and need to emote a little.

“Life's a piece of shit, when you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true
You'll see its all a show, keep 'em laughin as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you”

- Monty Python

Well, after all that I don’t have any room left to quote an eloquent passage from this book. There are always plenty of those in a Hardy novel (so that’s hardly novel!).