Trollope is a bit unfashionable these days, I fear. People like John Major saying ‘I like to go to bed with a Trollope’ and acting as if it is so…droll.
But he is a very readable writer and that is what I most liked about this book. Like other Victorian writers, you can see how the discipline of the regular instalment keeps the pace up nicely. Dickens wrote many of his novels as serials in various periodicals and this novel, the first of Trollope’s Palliser novels, or the ‘political novels’ as they are called by the afficionados, benefits from the need for suspensive breaks and regular reminders of what is going on. The cadences are rhythmic and engrossing, after a few chapters.
The characters are not all convincing and this is very much a novel about the upper middle classes. But it rattles along and Trollope is all plot and action; he doesn’t dwell on long descriptions or long digressions.
This is the first of a series of about 6 novels and I will certainly get hold of ‘Phineas Finn’, which comes next. It may sound odd, to say of a Victorian novelist, but Trollope is great recreational reading.
I won’t spoil the plot for you by talking about it in detail but one of the most fascinating things about it is the way in which social mores are so suffocating and yet so formative. The sense of human passions and emotions being diverted by inviolable social custom, like a river meandering in response to rocks and other obstacles, underpins the whole book.
I strongly recommend it, especially of you are planning a long journey. It is, in the best sense of the word, diverting.