Booklist Reviews 2015 November #2
Nicholson channels the spirit of Thomas Hardy here, portraying the British novelist and poet as a despairing, bitter old man, living in a dark house in Dorset in the 1920s. This kind of portrait can be either a very good or a very bad thing, depending on how much the reader likes Hardy. In the story, Hardy's gloom is pierced by the prospect of having a gorgeous local actress, with whom he is infatuated, play Tess in a local production of Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles. But Hardy fears this infatuation may be his undoing—and so does his second wife, Florence, younger but every bit as bitter as Hardy himself. Hardy's growing passion for the local actress is the focus of the book—a situation reminiscent of Dickens' affair with actress Ellen Ternan, except that Hardy's age and vacillation take away the suspense. The story is told from the points of view of Hardy, Florence, and the actress. Nicholson succeeds in sounding very much like Hardy, with brilliantly realized landscape and settings. The plot, however, lacks the intensity of Hardy's novels. Still, this will prove fascinating for the writer's devotees. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
PW Reviews 2015 October #3
Thomas Hardy fans will be engrossed by Nicholson's fictional account of the true story of Hardy's infatuation, at age 84, with a married 18-year-old amateur actress, Gertie Bugler, playing Tess in the local Corn Exchange production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. This disconcerting tale is told from three alternating standpoints: Hardy's, Gertie's, and that of Hardy's second wife, Florence. Although the women's narratives are credible and entertaining, Hardy's perspective dominates and captivates through its slow rhythms, antiquated vocabulary, and above all its third-person style featuring natural imagery, meandering syntax, and melancholy observations. In classic Hardy fashion, the novel begins with a rural landscape, zeroes in on the silhouette of an old man walking with his dog, and then reveals that the dog is named Wessex and the old man is the great novelist. Even before Florence has her say, the strains on their marriage are evident, what with Hardy preoccupied by work, memories, and increasingly by Gertie. Hardy invites Gertie to tea when Florence is away, watches Gertie's performance from backstage, keeps a lock of her hair, and imagines eloping. Gertie, meanwhile, imagines a London stage career, while Florence imagines widowhood. As in his two previous novels, Nicholson (The Elephant Keeper) presents an impossible, inappropriate passion. This effort proves most remarkable for its deliciously archaic prose and portrait of the artist as an old man falling in love partly with a girl, partly with the disappearing countryside and lost youth she represents, and mostly with his own creation. (Jan.)[Page ]. Copyright 2015 PWxyz LLC