This attractive book looks at the best of Hardy's novels in relation to people and place. Reading it makes you want to reach for the Ordnance Survey maps and get out into the countryside and enjoy not just the writings but discover how they relate to Hardy's Wessex both at the time that Hardy was writing, and now. Bullen's book makes you notice things that might never have occured to you in ordinary readings of Hardy's books. Thus we have immense contasts between the light when Tess is working in the fields with the sun shining on the machinery and the dark of Stonehenge when she and Angel are trying to avoid the police.
Hardy's characters are often homeless and none more so than in The Mayor of Casterbridge when everyone is homeless when they arrive, yet in real life the alleged house in which Henchard settles today has a blue plaque. With Bullen we can search the woodlands for the Woodlanders' homes, wander the heathland where Eustacia has her bonfire and explore Oxford, Salisbury and the tiny villages where Jude and Arabella were brought up. Always we are also reflecting on Hardy's life, how it influenced his writings and Bullen is is sure guide for us in that respect. Bullen emphasizes how Hardy was as good a poet as a novelist and some poems - especially the Boscastle poems also feature.
There are many illustrations, most in colour. There are maps to guide the reader. The coat of arms at Bere Regis church is likened to the ace of hearts which appears on the ceiling after Tess has committed murder. There are historical illustrations to remind us what it was like in the nineteenth century - none more so that the Atkinson Grimshaw painting on the front cover. This book has some amazing insights for the general reader and is a book to read and re-read and get into the countryside and town with - and explore.