My grateful thanks to Sophie Goodfellow at EDPR for a copy of Max Gate by Damien Wilkins in return for an honest review. Max Gate was published in e-book and paperback by Aardvark Bureau on 6th June 2016 and is available from Amazon, Aardvark, WH Smith and Waterstones.
The story of Thomas Hardy’s death told by his housemaid Nellie.
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.
My Review of Max Gate
With Thomas Hardy near to death, the entire household at Max Gate is embroiled in a pivotal moment in literary history.
I found Max Gate a fascinating and sometimes uncomfortable read. I love Hardy’s writing and at times found the brilliantly researched honesty of the narrative troubling to my own memories of having read Hardy’s fiction. There were references to aspects of Hardy’s life and death with which I was fully familiar and new elements that had previously passed me by so that I feel I have a slightly clearer understanding of the man.
However, I’m not sure how much Max Gate is about Hardy, and how much about the history of the time the book is set, the social mores and the way in which we treat and feel ownership of celebrities. Hardy is as much part of the celebrity culture of 1928 as the Kardashians are in today’s society. There’s an interesting exploration of how the public feels it has a right to possess part of a celebrity – whether it is an autograph, a photograph or a quotation to put into a newspaper.
Similarly, I feel I know far more about Florence Hardy as a result of reading Max Gate than Hardy himself. Although the narrative is told by Nellie Titterington, I don’t feel I have a real picture of her. She is presented as an unreliable narrator and at times I felt the language used didn’t sit well with that of a housemaid, even though she is frequently reporting speech from those better educated and more erudite. There are some real contrasts of bawdy language and local dialect too so that I felt the narrative lost its identity at times, but there is a satisfyingly dark wit employed that I really appreciated. The text was also too fragmentary on occasion so that it felt frustrating to read and I couldn’t decide if this was a deliberate structure to convey life at Max Gate house or the nature of the character speaking. I did enjoy thoroughly the descriptions of the natural world and found them very Hardyesque.
I’m not sure what I think about Max Gate. It is thought provoking and interesting but also frustrating and inconsistent. I may need to read it again to form a complete view. Those who like me are fans of Hardy’s writing will find Max Gate a book to ponder.