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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy “Hey Jude, don't be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better”

I would caution anyone against taking romantic advice from Sir Paul McCartney, splendid music legend that he is. This is especially true for a Thomas Hardy protagonist. Certainly Jude Fawley did let a certain lady under his skin and proceeds to make things much worse (spoiler? Hardly, Thomas Hardy’s protagonists are not in the habit of making things better). If you are interested in reading a Thomas Hardy’s novel, but his reputation as a writer of bleak and tragic novels makes you feel reluctant to try one then Jude the Obscure is not for you. Read [b: Far From the Madding Crowd|31463|Far from the Madding Crowd |Thomas Hardy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388279695s/31463.jpg|914540] instead, that is a comparatively positive book not dominated by tragedy.

The opening chapter of the book depicts a poor little orphan boy bidding farewell to his favorite schoolteacher who is moving to another town nearby. In most novels you would expect this to be the beginning of a rags-to-riches story, but with Hardy you can reasonably expect rags-to-even-more-rags (sorry about the hyphens, they seem to be required for some reason).

Jude is a very appealing protagonist, a poor stonemason who wants to advance himself above his given social situation through obtaining higher education. Unfortunately he is "knocked about from pillar to post" by the social mores of the time (no opening in academia for poor plebeian types), and he also stacks the odds higher against himself by getting involved with unsuitable women who completely derail his life plan. First Arabella, a manipulative and scheming woman whose special talent is creating faux-dimples on her chubby cheeks*. When she departs for greener pastures Jude attempts to get back on track is foiled by his own lust for his cousin Sue Bridehead. Sue is a great girl actually but at least a century before her time in outlook, especially with her willingness to “live in sin” in spite of the social norm.

Both Jude and Sue are very likable, complex and sympathetic characters but you must try very hard not to like them because their situation goes from bad to worst, and even make a pit stop at horrifying. Hardy’s prose is as awe inspiring as ever and there are loads of pithy bits you can quote out of context at parties. I feel I ought to put in a "but" at this point but I can't think of any reservation to follow it with. If you are up for a heartfelt critique of societal norms through a tragic love story that makes you reflect on the unfairness of life (or if you are a goth) then this book is definitely for you.

* As well as being a hiss-boo antagonist Arabella is also the book's sole comic relief with her dimples manufacturing.

Audiobook credit: I listened to the free Librivox audiobook version, beautifully and passionately read by "Tadhg". Thank you!

Whovian Corner (Hi Cecily!): Christopher Eccleston as Jude Fawley.