Thomas Hardy fans will be engrossed by Nicholson’s fictional account of the true story of Hardy’s infatuation, at age 84, with a married 18-year-old amateur actress, Gertie Bugler, playing Tess in the local Corn Exchange production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This disconcerting tale is told from three alternating standpoints: Hardy’s, Gertie’s, and that of Hardy’s second wife, Florence. Although the women’s narratives are credible and entertaining, Hardy’s perspective dominates and captivates through its slow rhythms, antiquated vocabulary, and above all its third-person style featuring natural imagery, meandering syntax, and melancholy observations. In classic Hardy fashion, the novel begins with a rural landscape, zeroes in on the silhouette of an old man walking with his dog, and then reveals that the dog is named Wessex and the old man is the great novelist. Even before Florence has her say, the strains on their marriage are evident, what with Hardy preoccupied by work, memories, and increasingly by Gertie. Hardy invites Gertie to tea when Florence is away, watches Gertie’s performance from backstage, keeps a lock of her hair, and imagines eloping. Gertie, meanwhile, imagines a London stage career, while Florence imagines widowhood. As in his two previous novels, Nicholson (The Elephant Keeper) presents an impossible, inappropriate passion. This effort proves most remarkable for its deliciously archaic prose and portrait of the artist as an old man falling in love partly with a girl, partly with the disappearing countryside and lost youth she represents, and mostly with his own creation.