This is my first Thomas Hardy book, recommended as it eases you into his style of writing, and man alive is it a strange style! Hardy makes sure the conversations of country folk sound genuine so you get a lot of "ye", "o'ny", "squizzling", "stimmilent", "onmistakable", "husbird", all of which takes a lot of getting used to. The main character, Dick Dewy, is a "tranter" something I had to look up -it's basically a driver.
Anyway, Dick Dewy falls for the new schoolmistress, the ridiculously named Fancy Day, courting her with competition from Farmer Shiner and Vicar Medley. The side story is of the church "quire" (choir) made up of fiddle players being phased out in favour of an organ played by Fancy Day. I say story, that's it really. As for Dick Dewy, he of course marries Fancy Day.
It's a very gentle and good natured volume, a bit like reading about hobbits (the impression I got from their odd way of talking) and their obsessions with carol singing, cider, and "nutting" (something about gathering nuts). A cross between The Darling Buds of May, and the Wind in the Willows but the characters are humans. Tolerably quaint, even amusing at times. There is an attempt at drama toward the end which is quickly resolved and seemed, frankly, a bit of a cheap lunge at the reader's attention and is quickly resolved anyway. That said, there's very little here besides and I guess that Hardy's reputation comes from more famous books "Jude the Obscure", "Tess of the d'Ubervilles" etc. than from this novel. Not a great book but a nice introduction to Hardy's writing and, from what I hear of his other books, probably his least depressing.