Far From The Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy

Review of Book

At the age of sixteen Thomas Hardy was articled to a local architect and continued to work in the profession for several years. He also began to write poetry in his early 20s, eventually publishing over 900 poems. These two influences are clearly evident throughout Far From the Madding Crowd, as are his familiarity with the customs and idiosyncrasies of country folk.

Hardy's original writing, which appeared as a magazine serialisation, was heavily censored by its editor. By making reference, for example, to female sexual desire Hardy had crossed the moral and social boundaries of the Victorian era. Thankfully, we today are able to enjoy the work in its entirety.

It is a captivating novel that works on so many levels. From straightforward storytelling to sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes delightfully absurd allusions. The beautifully poetic and vivid detail of the natural world and of the landscapes, with which Hardy was so familiar, makes you feel as though you are actually part of the story. His frequent use of pictorial references is also very effective. For example, before the storm from which Gabriel battled to protect the ricks, Hardy says of the sheep huddled together against the elements that, 'they were not unlike a Van Dyke lace collar'.

And in defining even the simplest of things, he encourages you to give more thought to them than you may have done otherwise. For instance, when describing a single gargoyle on the church - the one that so cruelly contributes to the undoing of Troy's work on Fanny's grave, or the design features of the barn used for shearing, again highlighting his architectural background.

FFTMC is so many things; witty, tragic, intense, delightfully comical in places - as in the conversations between Bathsheba's workfolk, and deeply emotional in others - as in the feelings and responses of the four main characters.

Then there are the many Biblical references easily recognisable to even the uneducated of the time, and worth checking out today. Often ironically humorous in their misapplication, these allusions were designed by Hardy to be a satirical dig on the rituals of organised religion of the time.

Review of Nat's Reading

This is arguably the piece de resistance of Nat's audio work so far, maybe with the exception of his Artemis Fowl recordings. It's not just how he manages to get his head around upward of 15 characters, even each of the rustics being perceptibly different. But it's also his switching seamlessly between them all and using his narrator's voice, without stumbling over the whole lot of them, that is quite beyond comprehension! Or the way he uses his voice, from that wonderful deep resonance to its softest, most sensitive - at times barely more than a whisper.

His performance is incredibly moving and his voice totally mesmerising, even strangely addictive. He draws out the deepest emotions of both male and female characters to perfection. You become totally absorbed as he, for instance, reads the narrative of Fanny's last journey. As she crawls and drags herself towards the workhouse, Nat makes you feel and live her exhaustion and desperation. Wonderful, wonderful stuffÂ….

Too, he sings in both male and female voices (one deliberately off-key), and his rendition of a variety of birdsongs, a squirrel and a cock pheasant are rather charming!

Among the many highlights, too numerous to mention here, would have to be Bathsheba at last finding outlet and release to her grief, when she hears the sound of the choir's singing coming from the church. Nat's delivery of Hardy's words arouses great empathy for Bathsheba and makes you want to weep with her.

And then there are these long conversations between Bathsheba's workfolk, (one lasting a full 35 minutes), which could be rather tedious to read for oneself. But Nat, quite simply, breathes life into the scene and interprets it consummately.

This production, in comparison with some of Nat's other audio books which can be enjoyed in the background, so to speak, deserves the listener giving it their full attention. In fact, if you don't you miss the finer points of a performance that is unequalled. I would highly recommend investing in a decent set of headphones, so that you can immerse yourself totally!

This is one audio I never tire of hearing, and much prefer it to the TV version of FFTMC. Good though that was, Nat is here able to give so much more depth to his Gabriel, for one thing, and you get the whole import and intention of Hardy's novel. If you buy only one of Nat's audios, make it this one. I guarantee it will whet your appetite for more. Thirteen hours and thirty-seven minutes of Nat performing his little socks off - blissÂ…! :o)

Published by

Chivers/BBC Audio Books

ISBN - CD 075408745X (Recommended) or

Cassette 0754001253

April 1998 and May 2003

Complete and unabridged

Running time 13hrs 37mins

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