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Max Gate ~ Damien Wilkins

Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s home in Dorset, is as the name implies the subject of the book. In this home, upstairs, lies Hardy himself who is ill and nearing his last days. Outside his door sits his beloved dog Wessex, in a room nearby is his second wife Florence, sifting through the diary entries that Hardy has made over his lifetime. Downstairs, are his powerful literati friends, awaiting the news of Hardy’s last breath. In other corners of the house, the domestic help is the walls and ears, serving, cleaning, cooking, keeping guard at the gates while journalists and well-wishers swarm the estate; all starkly aware that their life in the presence of a literary genius will soon come to an end.

The story is narrated from the point of view of Nellie Titterington, a maid at the house, which is probably where the problem with the book lies. Several times over the course of the book, I found myself wondering how Wilkins was going to explain the logistical issue of how Nellie could have overheard in such great detail, all parts of some extremely private conversations. Wilkins never explains, and somehow, I was not troubled by that.

This slight book is a detailed look into the last days of a great man, the relationship he shared with his first wife whom he didn’t seem to love in her lifetime, but admired after her passing; and also of course with his second wife. His friends quarrel over who knew him best, his neighbours and family quarrel over where he might be buried. An emotional, enjoyable and clever look into the consequences of having lived the life of an enigma.

Why you should read it:

  • If you’re a fan of Hardy and have ever been interested in his life
  • If you enjoy Downtown Abbey/ Remains of the Day/Upstairs Downstairs etc.
  • Looking for a light quick read

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • If you’re not interested in a fictionalised version of Thomas Hardy’s life
  • If you’re looking for a great thriller or a romance


Note – I was provided a copy of this book by the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.