What I’ve been reading: January

Disclaimer: I realise it is now as good as halfway through February and there’s little to no point in me writing this blog about some books that I feel like I read a million years ago.

Disclaimer aside, I’m going to write my monthly mini English essay anyway. Let me start by saying, the two books I chose to read in January pretty much took me as close to time travel as I’m ever going to get. Try 21st Century London meets 19th Century Wessex.

Time travelling aside, though, Transit by Rachel Cusk and Far From the Madding Crowd, a Thomas Hardy classic aren’t actually all that different (bear with me on this). Both novels follow the somewhat tragic, somewhat inspiring story of an independent, intelligent female protagonist making her way in a man’s world.

Cusk’s protagonist, who remains unnamed for much of the novel, is canny, quick-witted and incredibly insightful. The narrative is a mundane-come-sublime depiction of ordinary life – we follow our narrator through her honest observations of single parenthood, love and artistry. It is this stream-of-consciousness-style narrative that truly gives the title any weight. “Transit” is defined as moving people or things from one place to the other and it’s in this state of movement that both reader and narrator are in throughout the entirety of the novel. There’s no real story and a noticeable (but not necessarily negative) lack of tangible plot points. Which is exactly what makes it so relatable and so creative.

Bathsheba, Hardy’s heroine, can be summed up the same way. This depiction of an independent young woman who marries for all the wrong reasons and runs her own estate yet doesn’t die/ become a social pariah/ fade into obscurity/ have some hideous fate thrust upon her by some fatalistic (inevitably male) author is so far beyond it’s time it’s almost unbelievable. Yet, Bathsheba is believable. Such is Hardy’s talent – TH has just got himself a new fan. Like Cusk’s narrator, Bathsheba seems to be in a state of flux throughout Far From the Madding Crowd. As my dad put it, “Hardy doesn’t do happy”. Whilst she’s physically in the same place most of the time, her transit is an emotional one and her keen sense of self is constantly challenged by the emotional demands that others place on her (I’m looking at you, Farmer Boldwood).

Where I would argue Far From the Madding Crowd differs from Transit, is in it’s Romanticism. I LOVE the Romantics and everything about them so this novel was a treat. Every trope of the genre is there, from the rural idyll, the godly Gabriel Oak and the absolute faith to the language of every day life. Add in the Biblical connotations and exotic undertones of Bathsheba’s name and you’ve got yourself the perfect Romantic novel.