This is the story of Michael Henchard, who sells his wife and infant daughter for five guineas while drunk at a local fair. The consequences of this one impulsive action haunt his life thereafter. Henchard is a tragic figure, doomed not only by the character flaws of which he is only too aware, but also by a malignant, inescapable fate.
Hardy's writing is breathtaking. The novel is full of stunningly beautiful descriptive language. Hardy paints vivid pictures with words, bringing both characters and setting to life. It's a novel full of memorable characters. Henchard is the most striking, but in their quieter way Donald Farfarie, the Scotsman who wins and then loses Henchard's affection, the good and long-suffering Elizabeth-Jane and the complex Lucetta are also compelling, as are the secondary characters who form the chorus.
This is an intensely sad novel. It had the same effect on me as a Greek or a Shakespearean tragedy: you know it'll end badly, no matter how hard the characters try to avoid their fate. And I ached for Henchard, a man who desperately wants to find redemption, even when pride, arrogance, temper and impulsiveness undo him at every turn.
I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Simon Vance. He does a magnificient job, particularly with Henchard and Farfarie, although (in common with most male narrators) he struggles with young female voices.
It appears that I've turned into a huge Thomas Hardy fan after steafastly avoiding his novels for more than thirty years. Who'd have thought?