The big TBR

At the start of the year I decided to take part in the TBR challenge (although I have cheated copiously by adapting it to what I thought might work for me). So we're about to start the fifth month, and how am I doing? Well, I've managed to read 10 books so far, so am just 2 books behind schedule; and am almost on course to read the 36 I set myself by the end of the year.

There has been a major breakthrough though, in that I've just finished what must surely be the mother of all TBRs. You may remember that in an earlier post I mentioned my mother's beloved glass-fronted bookcase in which reposed her most treasured volumes. Among these volumes were, somewhat oddly, the first and last volumes of Anthony Trollope's Barchester Chronicles. You could therefore argue that Last Chronicle of Barset has been a personal TBR for 49 years. It must be 30 years since I first read The warden, so it's taken a while to get completely through the series, although I re-started them just before I started blogging, so the current series read has just taken about 7 years. I'm not sure why this is, as I usually love Trollope when I'm reading him, but do tend to forget how much I enjoy him in between reads.

So Last Chronicle of Barset - was it worth the wait? Well, yes, it was. I don't think it's the best book in the series - those contenders must surely be, my favourite, Barchester Towers, closely followed by The small house at Allington, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable read. And as usual, Trollope manages to surprise me with his modernity despite writing in the middle of the Victorian period.

All our old favourite characters are there - the Proudies, the Grantlys, the Dales and John Eames. Fiery Lady Julia makes an appearance, and there are some great new characters too. The novel centres around the perpetual curate of Hogglestock, a poverty stricken village on the edges of Barsetshire. When Mr. Crawley cashes a stolen cheque, and then appears to lie about its provenance, he is charged with theft and the case is dragged through the courts. While Crawley's family and most of the villagers see him as a good man fallen upon horribly hard times, the Proudie faction, at the cathedral, are determined to punish him even before the case comes to trial.

It is a genuinely moving tale; and is probably unique for the period in portraying the descent into a nervous breakdown (surely the background to Crawley's unusual behaviour). It's, as ever with Trollope, a wonderful read - touching, often funny, with a lightness of touch and humanity that always marks Trollope out. As the case races towards its appointed day in court this is also edge of the seat writing - more what you'd expect from a contemporary crime novel than from a Victorian three decker read.

I loved the characters, I loved the story, I cheered when Crawley's lawyer cousin rushed to Barchester to tell him the story behind the cheque. I also cheered when Conway Dalrymple won the very unexpected woman of his dreams - Clara Van Siever should have a book of her own, I'm sure she would have been a redoubtable elderly suffragette 50 years on from Last Chronicle. But not everything in Last Chronicle turns out as the reader might hope. There are deaths of good and bad, and at least one romance doesn't end in the way that a reader might expect. The reader shouldn't feel short-changed though as in this Trollope stays true to his characters. In Barchester Chronicles the world is often a better place than it is in reality, but Trollope's characters are very real, and that their lives don't necessarily pursue the sort of lives that you would expect of a fictional character only emphasises this.

I, in common with the author, am going to miss the good people of Barchester very much.

Only realised after finishing this post that April marked Trollope's 200th anniversary, so it seems very appropriate that the mother of all TBR challenges should have been finished to mark his anniversary. A happy belated birthday, Anthony, and thanks for all the wonderful books.


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