Two more traditional books under review today – another of the wonderful “Barchester Chronicles” and a lovely old-fashioned school story. I could have actually ploughed on through the rest of the Trollopes when I got to the end of “Barchester Towers”, however, my reading (and this blog) thrives on variety, so I reined myself in and went on to the school story, and I’ll try to keep myself to one a month. In other news, I went in another charity shop yesterday, again looking for Mary Hocking books, and came out with a bag of others – it looked worse than it was, because I met up with my friend Linda and she returned a load of Debbie Macomber novels she’d borrowed from me plus passed me some to complete my Cedar Cove collection again (knowing she has full dibs on any of them at any time). Do any of you share collections of books?
Anthony Trollope – “Barchester Towers”
Second in the Chronicles and much longer than “The Warden” but so engrossing and unputdownable! Trollope has dispatched John Bold so that Eleanor Harding as was is available again, although accompanied by a small son. While the dispute in the Church of England rages between High and Evangelical Anglicanism (a feature of the time the book was written but also still raging now, as I know from various tales I hear from my CofE friends), the beloved and gentle Bishop dies, the position of Warden finally becomes available again as it is now politically approved, and when the position of Dean comes up, too, there is even more politicking and jostling for preferment than ever. As a start, Mr Harding’s son-in-law and the Bishop’s son is passed over for an incomer who is going to stir things up even more.
There are some great villains in this novel: the odious and slimy Slope, who the author still treats with care and whose inner workings are still shown somewhat sympathetically, and the naughty and manipulative Signora, daughter of a clergyman but certainly not behaving like one, controlling her family and pointing her dilettante brother in the direction of any available female, but we also have the saintly Mr Harding and the shy 40-year-old Mr Arabin on the side of Good.
You can see Trollope working out things in order to produce echoed and patterned scenes, surprising overhearings and duplications, but I think it works in a Shakespearean or even Murdochian patterning way which doesn’t detract from the whole: there is more a delight, an “Oh, THAT’s how it comes out”, and the set pieces are really rather marvellous. Will people stop talking about Eleanor’s love life? Will Slope get everything that he wants (and he wants a great deal and thinks he will get it)? Who will grasp the real power behind the Bishop’s throne?
Interestingly, I noted here as well as in “The Warden” that the narrator appears to be part of the community and knows most of the characters, having shaken hands once and never again with Slope, etc., but we’re never given a hint as to whether he (or she?) is one of the characters. This reminded me of N, the narrator of Iris Murdoch’s “The Philosopher’s Pupil” – I did look into this and IM doesn’t mention Trollope, but he was read by her husband, John Bayley’s, so who knows!
Patrica K. Caldwell – “Prefects at Vivians”
(15 May, from Verity via Linda)
Our friend Verity lent this to me and Linda – Linda had it first (and enjoyed it) then passed it to me. It’s a traditional school story, published by Girls Gone By Publishers, who reprint lovely old books in this kind of genre (don’t click on that link if you’re weak-willed and don’t say I didn’t warn you if you do) with an introduction and an autobiographical note by the author herself, which is a lovely touch.
It’s a proper, traditional girls’ school story, with the requisite loner being made a prefect to encourage responsibility, rags, natural peril, even midnight feasts – but it’s the girls’ school genre, that’s what you expect, and it’s done well. It was written when the author was only 17 and she continued the series as a young and then older woman – I will definitely look out for the others. The characterisation is nicely done and differentiated, the teachers are shown as human, and it’s a lovely, warm read. Oh, and it was originally published in 1956, so adds one more to my Reading A Century list!
And here’s one of the books that fell into my bag at the charity shop. There were, I confess, three more. One was a copy of “My Summer of Love” by Helen Cross, which I reviewed recently – I couldn’t let that stay there, but will put it into one of the BookCrossing zones in Birmingham. One was a Georgette Heyer omnibus which I already had in a BookCrossing copy, but it’s time for that one to circulate again now, so I swapped them over (that’s two NOT on the TBR, right!). The third, I’m slightly ashamed to say, was Judith Krantz’ “Princess Daisy” – this was one of ‘those books’ that was circulated at my girls’ grammar school in the 80s, and I couldn’t resist seeing if it was as shocking as it seemed then (I’m guessing it won’t be). Any woman in her late 30s to mid 40s is bound to remember this one and Lace 1 and 2 …
Anyway, moving swiftly on, this is Kingsolver’s latest, I think, and not one I’d picked up yet – I’ve read all of hers except “The Poisonwood Bible” (because I don’t like books set in Africa particularly, I’m sorry to say – we all have our foibles, that’s mine, and there’s a blog post in there somewhere, isn’t there). So only two on the TBR and it’s not quite burst yet …
What are you reading? What did you circulate secretly at school? Do share (keep it clean, please!). Did you click through to Girls Gone By and do you blame me for what happened next?