Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
This is my first Trollope novel and I'm hooked. I loved pretty much everything about it: the writing, the time period, the characters, and the way Trollope turns away from the story every now and then to talk to the reader. As a technique, that can be distracting, and I've read authors who have tediously used it as an opportunity to preach to the reader, but with Trollope it's different. It adds interest and makes the reading that much more enjoyable. I love the language of this book so much he could probably write about tax law and I'd still be happy with it.
The story is set in the village of Barchester and follows the goings-on of the local people. It's character, not plot, driven so anyone looking for a lot of action will be disappointed. The plot involves things like who gets local government and church appointments and who gets romantic with who. Think Jane Austen, not Dan Brown.
I loved the naming of the characters. The haughty lady who thought she was above everyone else was called Mrs. Proudie. The clergyman who couldn't be trusted was Mr. Slope, and Mr. Vellum Deeds was an attorney. Then there was Mrs. Lookaloft, Mrs. Clantantram and Farmer Greenacre. Oh, and Mr. & Mrs. Quiverful, who, of course, had a lot of children. I've found this common with Victorian writers and not at all unique to Trollope but I always find it entertaining.
What is most appealing to me about this book is Trollope's wit. It's brilliant. He makes the sharpest observations about his characters and their lives without descending into sarcasm or unkindness. Everything he says has an edge, but not an unpleasant one. If you aren't familiar with Trollope's work here's a sample:
"Wise people, when they are in the wrong, always put themselves right by finding fault with the people against whom they have sinned. Lady De Courcy was a wise woman; and therefore, having treated Miss Thorne very badly by staying away till three o'clock, she assumed the offensive and attacked Mr. Thorne's roads. Her daughter, not less wise, attacked Miss Thorne's early hours. The art of doing this is among the most precious of those usually cultivated by persons who know how to live. Who can go systematically to work, and having done battle with the primary accusation and settled that, then bring forward a counter-charge and support that also? Life is not long enough for such labours. A man in the right relies easily on his rectitude, and therefore goes about unarmed. His very strength is his weakness. A man in the wrong knows that he must look to his weapons; his very weakness is his strength. The one is never prepared for combat, the other is always ready. Therefore it is that in this world the man that is in the wrong almost invariably conquers the man that is in the right, and invariably despises him. .....Poor Miss Thorne was altogether overcome. She knew very well that she had been ill treated, and yet she found herself making apologies to Lady De Courcy. To do her ladyship justice, she received them very graciously..."
I'm glad I discovered Trollope and his books and will look forward to reading more.