Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Aardvark Bureau (6 Jun. 2016)
1928. As Thomas Hardy lies on his death bed at his Dorset home, Max Gate, a tug-of-war is taking place over his legacy … and the eventual fate of his mortal remains. What counts for more: the wishes of his family and dutiful second wife, Florence? the opinion of his literary friends? Hardy’s own express desires? or ‘the will of the nation’? Narrated with wit and brutal honesty by housemaid Nellie Titterington, Max Gate is both an entertaining insight into the eccentricities of a writer’s life, and a raw, intriguing tale of torn loyalty, ownership and jealousy.
When I read the blurb of Max Gate my interest was piqued by the fact that I’ve visited Thomas Hardy’s birthplace and as this is my home county, I wanted to read about that historical time between the two world wars when everything was changing and nothing felt safe or secure.
Narrated by housemaid Nellie, Part One is how TH’s household is coping with him on his deathbed. I thought the use of short sentences helped to build the gloom and uncertainty of waiting to see if he will recover from flu. Nellie has interesting relationships with in-between maid Alice, ex boyfriend Alex and TH’s second wife Florence. Life carries on with jealousies not only with the staff but also with the friends who are waiting too. Part Two brings us to the conflict on where TH will be buried and Part 3 Nellie in old age.
For me the story was more about Nellie than TH and the tug of war over his legacy. I often find interesting articles in Dorset Ancestors and Damien Wilkins says in his Author’s Note he used this resource (where he came across the real Nellie) and having now read a couple of articles myself, he portrays Nellie very closely to who she really was. Part Three of the story however makes you realise that Nellie isn’t such a reliable narrator as you thought she was …
Reading group questions can be found after the Author’s Note which might prompt a reader to think more deeply about the novel.
Max Gate is an interesting dip into the past. It is slow and whimsical in places and won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you have a specific interest in TH or this time in history I think you will enjoy it.
I would like to thank Ed Pr for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Connect with the publisher
Publisher Twitter @aardvarkbureau