by Thomas Hardy
(The cover of my book actually looks nothing like this. It's an ancient, yellowing, white paperback with a line drawing of Bathsheba on the front that I borrowed from a bookshelf in the lunchroom at work. Also, I originally thought the title was Far From the Maddening Crowd. Oops.)
Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community.
I don't like classic literature, and I despise love triangles (not to mention squares). And yet I not only read this book, but I even enjoyed it.
Thomas Hardy is a remarkable author, writing with an almost poetic fluidity and adding just enough description to his captivating plot to paint a vivid picture. I'll admit, though, that it did take a few chapters for me to settle into his older style of language.
As the above description suggests, the protagonist of this story is a remarkably strong female character, especially given the time period Far From the Madding Crowd was written in. She runs a farm on her own in a society where all farmers are men, and cares little of the men's opinions of her. Aside from one ill-conceived prank, she seemed to have a level head on her shoulders and was far from the silly girl we too often see in love square/triangle situations.
To avoid any spoilers, I'll refrain from stating my full opinions of the three suitors. I can't help but say, though, that shepherd Oak was from the start my favorite character.
If, like me, you want to expand your reading horizons and pick up a few classic novels, this is as good a place as any to begin.