review by Maryom
Set in the 1920s, when Thomas Hardy was in his eighties, this novel explores the triangular relationship between him, his much younger second wife Florence and local amateur actress Gertrude Bugler.
Gertrude, the star of the first theatrical production, at Dorchester Corn Exchange of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, dreams of performing the role in London and becoming a professional actress. To her, Hardy is just a friendly elderly gentleman; to Hardy, she's the personification of his feminine ideal. While Hardy hides away in his study and writes love poems to Gertrude, Florence feels lonely and
neglected, and is tormented by fears of where his feelings may lead him. It's a story that could almost have been written by Thomas Hardy himself.
Well, for a person who normally claims to not like them, I seem to be reading a lot of fictionalised biographies recently - and loving them!
Despite having read most of Hardy's novels, I've never concerned myself much with his personal life so this was all new to me and a fascinating glimpse into both his private and creative life. I associate him with vaguely mid-Victorian pastoral idylls, which were probably disappearing quickly even as he wrote, so it was very strange to picture Hardy in a comparatively modern setting surrounded by telephones and cars.
This story is told from three angles - both women's told in the first person, Hardy's in the third but in his style of writing as if he had become a character in one of his own tales.
Hardy comes across as someone probably rather hard to live with - he disappears into his study, writing and losing himself in memories, leaving Florence to occupy herself as best she can. Being married to a famous author hasn't turned out as she imagined it would. Lonely and childless, living in a house that seems imprinted with the memory of Hardy's first wife Emma, it's hard not to feel sorry for Florence despite the way she frets over her ailments and stokes up her jealousy.
An intimate portrait of a marriage slowly crumbling that will appeal to more than just die-hard Hardy fans.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction, fictionalised biography