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This review is from: The Prime Minister (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)As a Trollope devotee I cannot honestly say this is one of his works which I enjoyed the most, but it is one of his works which I admire the most. Trollope was really pushing the boundaries of his own writing when he wrote The Prime Minister, he was daring to be different - which is something I always admire in a writer with an established reputation. As a result, The Prime Minister lacks something of the warmth of the Barset novels or the political optimism of some of the earlier Palliser novels e.g. Phineas Finn. However, it is one of his finest, most complex observations of marital relationships, and also his most acute observation of the British political system and for these reasons it is a great novel.
As always with Trollope, the women are the standout characters of the piece - Lady Glencora is at her most charming, witty, frustrating, obstinate best in this book. She is ably assisted thankfully by Mrs Finn - the wonderful Madam Max of previous novels. It was such a relief to find Mrs Finn still played a significant role here despite her marriage in the previous book of the series. Emily Lopez is admittedly not my favourite of Trollope's ladies but she is at least not as saccharine sweet as the likes of Lily Dale, and she is made up for by the underused but rather marvellous Mrs Parker.
However, the male characters here do almost live up to their female rivals in interest, which is unusual in a Trollope novel. Ferdinand Lopez is a great example of the complex outsider, and the direct contrast presented with Plantagenet Palliser, the ultimare insider, is brilliantly drawn. Lopez remains largely a mystery throughout the novel, which just adds to it's brilliance. His ancestral origins remain unclear throughout, as does his cultural background. There are some uncomfortable anti-semitic references here, but these are largely from the mouths of the characters (i.e. not the narrator, Trollope) and so can be understood as a reflection of the attitude of the time. Nevertheless they do make moments of this novel uncomfortable for the modern reader, but do not detract massively from the novel overall.
Apparently Tolstoy was a big admirer of this book, and it is easy to see why as it bears a number of similarities to Anna Karenina. Palliser's political theorising reminds me of the voice of Levin in AK - albeit Trollope doesn't have Palliser go on at such ridiculous boring lengths as Tolstoy's protagonist. I also see similarities between the characters of Lopez and Vronsky - the self absorbed attitude, unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, anger issues and attitude towards women all seems reminiscent of each other. The fate of Lopez is also very reminiscent of one of the characters in AK (I wont say which and spoil the outcome for those who have not yet read this book).
Overall, I really admired this work. My only criticisms were that the overall tone of the book was the most sad and cynical I have encountered with Trollope's work so far which meant it lacked the warmth of other works, and also I felt it was about 75-100 pages too long and some editing would have made the story sharper and more effective. However, Trollope displays all his literary prowess here. He truly is a master of realist fiction, and has such a tremendous understanding of human psychology as well as such wit that I find it impossible not to delight in his work, and The Prime Minister is not exception.