Top critical review
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Mixed offerings from a master author
on 13 December 2010
This collection of short stories is by no means Hardy's best work, but it is nonetheless a worthwhile read. I won't review each an every story here, but I will bring your attention to what I believe are the two best. They are The Three Strangers and The Distracted Preacher, which bookend the collection of tales.
The Three Strangers is an oddly comic tale, quite uncharacteristic from some of Hardy's more fatalistic tragedies. It is a well-constructed tale regarding the activities of the local hangman, although the 'twist' is rather obvious. But that does not diminish from my enjoyment of the story.
The Distracted Preacher is far and away the best story of the lot. It is very much in the mould of Hardy's more famous novels, where love is thwarted by circumstances and by social and moral standards that must be seen to be maintained. The setting is reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn, though it has to be noted that Hardy's tale was written several decades earlier, raising the interesting question as to whether or not Jamaica Inn was influenced by The Distracted Preacher.
The rest of the stories are OK, but to me, they didn't really stand out and I was left with a feeling of just plain indifference towards them. They weren't especially bad, but they weren't especially good either; certainly not compared to the two highlighted tales here or to Hardy's more famous novels.
In conclusion, I would recommend this, though not as a book to read cover to cover. Rather, it is better to take each story individually and not start one as soon as you have finished another.