From Sheila Heti’s review of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman in the latest issue of LRB:
So begins the ‘love affair’ that carries us through most of the book. Yet in what universe can all this be understood as ‘love’? Though it’s never stated, the novel seems to take place during the years it was written: days coloured by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Waldman returns again and again to the ways of capitalism in her examination of romance in this micro-milieu. What does courtship look like in a world where people worry about breaking up in light of how much they’ve ‘invested’ in a relationship? In which the ‘market rate’ of everyone – women especially – is as unarguable as a number? And how delicious is it to read a story in which neither of the lovers is particularly loveable, just as there’s nothing loveable about their environment.
And I should not be allowed to quote this yet because I have never read any Thomas Hardy AND have not even finished the LRB article yet (only read this first paragraph and found it funny so wanted to share). Well, I have read some of his poetry, Hardy that is, and have read Parks, so maybe I am redeemed by a tiny inch. But yes the intro from Tim Park’s review of The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy edited by Simon Avery is funny and one can relate it to other novels read anyway.
What a pleasure to return to Thomas Hardy. For about a hundred pages. Then the torment begins, and we’re not even halfway through. From now on each turn of the page will expose the reader to greater unhappiness. There’s a moment in The Return of the Native where the main character, Clym, already deeply troubled by his mother’s mysterious death, goes out of his way to find a little boy who may be able to tell him exactly what happened. When he asks the boy’s mother for permission to speak to the child, she looks at him ‘in a peculiar and criticising manner. To anybody but a half-blind man it would have said, “You want another of the knocks which have already laid you so low.”’ As the boy then tells his tale, stringing together facts that will destroy Clym’s life, the woman ‘looked as if she wondered how a man could want more of what had stung him so deeply’. At this point many readers may realise that the same question is on their minds: why am I persevering with a novel that is so painful to me? This will become the central issue in all Hardy’s mature fiction, above all Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure: why are these stories so much more painful than anything I have read, painful in the reading that is, the agonising unfolding of events? Why did Hardy insist on making them so? Why do people have an appetite for this?