From Library Journal
Hardy tests the skill of any narrator. Not only must the reader dramatize differences of age, sex, region, and class among the characters who inhabit the fictional county of Wessex in the last century, but the straight narration must also showcase the eloquence of Hardy's prose. Vincent Brimble manages all this with ease. Which is fortunate, since the seven uneven tales here might seem downright dull in print. The first and best piece, "The Three Strangers," pulls out all the stops: a violent storm on the downs, three mysterious strangers who seek shelter in a shepherd's cabin where a rousing christening party is in progress, and the booming of a cannon to announce the escape of a prisoner nearby. In other stories (e.g., "Fellow Townsmen") the characters seem wooden, with plots turning too much on coincidence. Woven through all, however, are lively descriptions of life in Somerset 50 years or so before Hardy's time: accounts of milking cows all day in a dark dairy ("The Withered Arm"), smuggling tubs of brandy over the cliffs ("The Distracted Preacher"), and preparing for the anticipated invasion of Napoleon ("A Tradition of 1804"). Recommended for classic literature collections.
Jo Carr, Sarasota, Fla.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
Hardy's novels, in my experience (admittedly a long time ago, when I was going through a serious misery-lit phase), are emotional marathons. They leave you drained, desolate, in shock but ultimately satisfied that you finished the course. Ever since listening to Clare Tomalin's biography, The Time-torn Man, I've been meaning to dig out Tess, Jude, Bathsheba, Eustacia and the rest of the Wessex clan, but it will be a mission. I need an incentive. Here it is. Five minutes into the second tale, The Three Strangers, you can feel the old Hardy magic beginning to work its spell. The scene has been set, where else but on his favourite stamping ground (trudging ground might be a better word), the bare, dark, rain-sodden, wind-lashed heath five miles from Casterbridge (Dorchester to you), where 'the tails of little birds trying to roost on some scraggy thorn were blown inside out like umbrellas'. In a small, lonely hut, shepherd Fennel, his dairymaid wife and 19 guests are celebrating the birth of a new baby beside a crackling fire with mead, victuals, music and dancing. Then comes a knock at the door. 'Walk in!' cries our merry host, the latch clicks and in comes a stranger, 'dark in complexion and not unprepossessing as to feature', hat 'hung low over his eyes', which take in the room 'with a flash more than a glance' and like what they see. 'The rain is so heavy, friends, that I ask leave to come in and rest awhile,' he says in a deep, rich voice. Leave is given and a pull of the mead mug, and minutes later there's another knock, and in comes a second dripping stranger, who turns out to be the hangman on his way to Casterbridge to top a sheep-stealer in the morning. I'd forgotten what a consummate yarn-spinner Hardy is. Roald Dahl's end-of-story twists are famous, but Hardy's tales surprise you all the way through, holding your attention as firmly as old Solomon Selby does his audience's at the tavern in A Tradition of 1804. As soon as they see him take his pipe from his mouth and smile into the fire from his inglenook seat, they know what's coming. 'The smile was neither mirthful nor sad, not precisely humorous nor altogether thoughtful. We who knew him recognised it in a moment. It was his narrative smile.' And thus begins the wonderful tale of young Selby's encounter on a Wessex clifftop with Old Boney himself, recce-ing the long-planned invasion of England with one of his Frenchie generals. Next stop, The Return of the Native. --Sue Arnold - The Guardian
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Originally published in 1888, Hardy's classic collection of short tales set in early 19th-century Southwest England examines the lives of everyday folk, many of whom go through otherworldly occurrences. Neville Jason deftly narrates this audio edition. With only minor shifts in tone, Jason lends each character a distinct voice that is easily recognisable to listeners. Additionally, Jason's narration possesses an eloquence that will delight listeners and transport them to another time and place where the magical was indeed possible. While the book's language may seem dated to some listeners, Jason does his best to incorporate a slightly modern approach into his performance, and this brings a sense of immediacy to the stories. An enjoyable listen from start to finish and a must for Hardy fans. --Publishers Weekly
Hardy's collection of stories takes place in an imaginative locale, Wessex, based on the area around the author's home in Dorchester, England. Combining the real with the imagined, Hardy unfurls the ironies of everyday life; his introduction gives the listener an appreciation of what is to come. Neville Jason, an experienced actor and reader, is virtually flawless in rendering these vignettes. His diction, pacing, and inflection are spot-on, glorifying these tales of love, death, and the seeming supernatural and presenting the listener with a veritable audio Masterpiece Theatre. The dialogue is rendered as ably as the narrative. --Michael T. Fein, Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.