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I was introduced to Trollope by Librivox, last year, when I listened to 'The Warden', the first of the 'Barsetshire' novels. 'Barchester Towers' is the second, and I was following its progress through the recording process with interest, having enjoyed the first so much. This one is a very different book, and is both better and worse.
The thing I liked most about Trollope at first was his understanding that almost all people are trying to do the right thing. They have different priorities, but essentially, no-one actively seeks to do evil. However, from slight differences or outlook, great unhappiness can result. 'The Warden' is a tightly plotted book with a real knot of a moral question at its core. And there is no Bill Sykes or Fagin cackling in the corner - just moral men and women doing what they see as right. He also has a hilarious dig at Dickens, parodying his style and sentimentality.
'Barchester Towers', however, is much more Dickensian, and is, in my opinion, a much more enjoyable (and funny) book as a result. We have the villainous Mr Slope to hate, and his character gives fire and life to the whole work. The characterisation is more exaggerated, and what the book loses as a moral puzzle, it gains as a laugh-out-loud romp.
The most memorable elements are the party scenes, full of colour and incident, and the author's post-modern popping into the flow of the narrative, like a magician explaining how he has just done a card trick.
In comparison with Dickens, Trollope lacks passion and anger. But he makes up for this with a world weary appreciation of his characters, where the good are not all that good, and the bad are not as bad as all that.
Next: Moby Dick by Herman Melville