Book review: Max Gate

Max Gate

Max Gate

Damien Wilkins
Aardvark Bureau

US Release date:
Jule 12, 2016
also available as ebook
Historical Novel


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Tess of the D’Urbervilles was a favorite read in my teen years. So when I received Max Gate for review, I was intrigued. Written by a New Zealand author (my second author of this country, after Chad Taylor), this short historical novel focuses on the last days before Thomas Hardy’s death and the decisions around his place of burial.

The book is narrated by Nellie Titterington, the main housemaid at Max Gate in Dorset, Thomas Hardy’s Victorian property that he designed himself.
Through her voice, you can feel the tension in the household days before Hardy’s passing.
Tension, competition, and jealousy among the staff, worried of being no longer needed and dismissed after the master’s passing, tension among acquaintances, trying to get financial advantages through the event, tension with Florence, Thomas’s second wife.

Thomas expressed his desire to be buried with his family in his little village. Should they respect his last will or rather share him with all of England and choose Westminster as his resting place, possibly making money through the deal, thanks to his influential name?

There’s the feeling of being slowly buried, of airlessness, and I’ve found myself pulling at the top of my blouse.

With all that is going on, in an ambiance of doom, Nellie shares her memories of Hardy, of the house (so important here as a character really), of the rural surroundings. There are beautiful lyrical descriptions of the fauna and flora. In juxtaposition, there are also quite crude dialogs.

It is also about Hardy’s beliefs, thoughts, and books.

The novel is historical in the sense that it focuses on a few important days in history. But do not expect much action, there’s none, and it is very slow, more like literary fiction, not unlike Proust’s. Except for an interesting twist in Part 2.

Part 3 takes place sixty years later, and tells us about what happened to each main character of the book.

Earlier on, I used the word “juxtaposition”. Even though I enjoyed the book as a whole and appreciated the beautiful descriptions, I thought it lacked a bit of unity. No doubt the author chose the patchwork’s style on purpose, but it didn’t totally work for me. Nevertheless, if you are a Thomas Hardy fan, you need to read this interesting take on his final days.


Roman historique sur les derniers jours de Thomas Hardy, et quel lieu choisir pour ses restes. Écrit comme un patchwork de réflexions, avec la servante comme narratrice.

VERDICT: Short historical novel focusing on Thomas Hardy’s last days, with the controversy about where to bury him. Lyrical and evocative.


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.


Damien Wilkins

Damien Wilkins
is one of New Zealand’s leading writers.
He is the author of short stories,
poetry and seven novels,
including the New Zealand Book Award-winning
The Miserables and The Fainter,
which was shortlisted for both
the Montana New Zealand Book Awards
and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

He lives in Wellington,
where he is the Director of the
International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.


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What’s your favorite novel by Thomas Hardy?

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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free from Aardvark Bureau in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.

This book counted for the following Reading Challenges


2016 HF Reading Challenge Button 2   New Authors      


5 thoughts on “Book review: Max Gate

  1. Pingback: 2016 New Release Challenge | Words And Peace

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