Reading this book was like seeing childhood photos of a good friend. I recognized Hardy's minute attention to the natural world, the way the seasons move through the countryside, and his ability to capture a person's movements and individuality so that I feel like I could draw his portrait myself. But the general optimism of the story was a pleasant surprise (usually Hardy = big downer). Here, we still have the fallible, three-dimensional characters Hardy is so good at delineating, but they are able to correct their mistakes, the circumstances of their world are not so aligned against them. In short, this is a sunnier Hardy, although there is a melancholy subplot in the country church choir who must make way for the more modern organ. As always, Hardy reminds us that it didn't used to be this way, and that we lost a little something in the change.