I read because each reading has the ability to shift the angle of my worldview, and this is in turn feeds the will, the desire to live. This is my crack and as a result I am a ravenous and indiscriminate reader.
The book is nearing the end, and although I generally try to avoid expressing an opinion before I finish reading, I have a few thoughts I'd like to share.
It is interesting to read about these country practices that I know nothing about, like the work in the fields, the washing of the sheep, shearing, etc. Hardy is into this sage overview of life and work cycles in the countryside, and how they correspond to seasons. Just the sort of thing to excite the men and women who are responsible for the high school curriculum. Oh the merchants of misery! Still, that part was enjoyable to me, although it would not have been if it was forced onto me at the tender age of 14.
Some of the nature descriptions are excellent. You can feel the melancholy of a rainy day and the tension before the storm quite clearly. Then, some are verbose and clumsy, and I would forget what I am reading halfway through.
The plot moves along like an Argentinian telenovella. On the one hand, it doesn't get unbearably boring - there are enough dead babies, broken engagements, lost virginities and broken hearts to keep you on your toes. On the other hand, you want to smack the characters, hard.
Now, to the two things I really hold against Hardy. Firstly, the thinly veiled sexism, that never (hmm) makes itself explicit, but is felt strongly throughout the book. I don't care what times he lived in. Secondly, the writerliness and erudition that uncomfortably squishes itself into descriptions of an uncomplicated country life. One of the more odious expressions of this is the following: "At these words there arose from Bathsheba's lips a long, low cry of measureless despair and indignation, such a wail of anguish as had never before been heard within those old-inhabited walls. It was the [GREEK word meaning "it is finished"] of her union with Troy". In the book you actually have the benefit of seeing the Greek word printed in Greek.
So, in short, the book is interesting in its skillful descriptions of a life so unfamiliar to a city dweller today, but the plot, the voice and the style don't exctly leave you gagging for more. I might never read another Hardy again. As my mechanic says, "once is a mishap, twice is a coincidence, but the third time, come on".