Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Amy Waldman

By posted at 6:00 am on December 7, 2011 4

coverJude the Obscure will stay with me longer than any book I read this year. Its opening scenes, in which the poor country boy becomes obsessed with the fictional city of Christminster, shimmering in the distance, promising the elevations of knowledge, are as engraved in my mind as the harrowing final ones. Tragedy is what the reader sees waiting in the distance for Jude, yet the route there is unpredictable, and so compelling. The plot is full, especially near the end, of excessive twists, absurd coincidences, and an occasional staginess. It doesn’t matter. Jude is a page-turner that made me think harder about the conventions of marriage, the meaning of morality, and the permutations of faith than any recent contemporary novel. It’s a story – a fable, almost – of passion and ideas, and both figure in the ill-fated relationship between the cousins Jude and Sue. Jude is doomed as much by his best qualities – his desire to find something admirable (a university, a woman) to anchor himself to; his noble aspirations, so discordant with his class; his refusal to conform; an overly tender heart – as by his ostensible worst, said to be his love of drink and women. Sue, mystifying, mercurial, and modern until she isn’t, manages to be convincing as both Jude’s soul-mate and his ruin. It’s awe-inspiring to think how bold Thomas Hardy was for his time.

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4 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Amy Waldman”

  1. Jack M
    at 8:16 am on December 7, 2011

    I was forced to read Hardy’s Return of the Native in school, and it was torture (I never finished it). Not sure I can ever bring myself to read him again. Is it possible I will enjoy him after all these years? Maybe….

  2. Jane
    at 11:46 am on December 7, 2011

    I read it 30 years ago, and it is still with me. How can the exploration of Christianity, hypocrisy, marriage, sexual repression, social ostracization, odd children and murder-suicide not still resonate? “Done because we are too menny.” I love this book. More than the much read and filmed Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd, though I like both a lot. And Hardy’s poetry! (And I’m basically an American lit kinda person, but I do love Hardy.)

  3. elle
    at 9:25 am on December 8, 2011

    I loved Tess of the d’Urbervilles as well.
    I’ve shied away from Jude the Obscure all this time because I do not think I have the stomach for it. I think I will go on doing so.

  4. Work in Progress » Blog Archive » Amy Waldman’s Favorite Reads from 2011
    at 2:02 pm on December 15, 2011

    […] her first novel, was published in August by FSG. You can read her reading picks elsewhere at The Millions and Salon and follow her on Twitter […]

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