"What depressed you?"
This sums up every Thomas Hardy novel I have ever read.
However, and this may shock and surprise you, ... I really liked this one. In contrast to Tess or Far from the Madding Crowd, I did not get exasperated with the characters, did not want to slap them or root for the sheep to turn into man-eating overlords - even though I still think that this would have made a better plot than what Far from the Madding Crowd had to offer.
The Return of the Native was quite different - it also had a woman at the centre of the story but the people around her were much more interesting characters, more likable, and some with a great sense of humor, or was it Hardy showing us his own sense of fun?
Anyway, I loved Eustacia Vye.
"Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess, that is, those which make not quite a model woman."
She had gumption and ambition, even though both made her ostracize herself from the community around her. And being different or an outcast from the community is never a good thing in a Hardy novel.
"An environment which would have made a contented woman a poet, a suffering woman a devotee, a pious woman a psalmist, even a giddy woman thoughtful, made a rebellious woman saturnine."
The themes that Hardy addresses in this book are similar to the ones in the Tess and Madding Crowd. I.e. the isolation of individuals who are or want to be different from the crowd (or "flock" in the case of Madding Crowd), the consequences of breaking with social norms, the superstitions that prevent social progress, etc. are all present in The Return of the Native but it is in this book that I found Hardy did not come across as delivering his criticism as a lecture. His use of humor and his patience in drawing up well-rounded, complex characters really helped make me want to invest time in the book.
Of course, having the book narrated by Alan Rickman helped, too, but given my previous experience with Hardy, I was surprised that I did not only enjoy the book but that I actually wanted to find out what happened to the characters.
Who knows, I might now even add Jude the Obscure to the TBR.