11a. Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope (1857)

Someone once said to me, in very disapproving tones, ‘oh, how can you read Trollope? He’s John Major’s favourite author!’. That revealed a level of stupidity I had hitherto only read about – quite possibly in the novels of Anthony Trollope himself. A lot of people would prefer his bigger, more serious novels like The Way We Live Now, and while I do love those books, I think this is the greatest achievement. You’ll have realised by now that I prefer the comic vein to the tragic – and they don’t come much more comic than Barchester Towers. It’s little more than the story of some petty bitching in a cathedral town over the appointment of a new bishop; great for lovers of clerical camp, but, you might think, not much more than that. You’d be wrong. The way in which Trollope reveals human motivation and emotion is as skilful and brutal as Flaubert, although he has a much more forgiving spirit. The good characters, particularly Eleanor, are loveable – but it’s the bad ones who provide the fun. Mrs Proudie is one of the great comic monsters of English literature, but she’s nothing compared to the repulsive chaplain, Obadiah Slope. Barchester Towers is pretty much the perfect reading experience: funny, exciting and thought-provoking. Don’t be put off by Trollope’s reputation. Dive in. Anyone who can write the line ‘her hand in his looked like a rose lying among carrots’ deserves your attention.

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Filed under My top 100 novels

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