This is the 9th Trollope I have read this year, having fallen in love initially with the Barset novels. Whilst this is by no means his best work, Trollope's very best is such a high standard that even his "second-rate" novels are really fine examples of his craft and well worth reading.
The American Senator of the title is actually not the main focus of the story, but more a vehicle through whose eyes Trollope exposes the highs and lows of British life of the period and indeed some of the flaws which exist in our society even now. The Senator, the wonderfully named Elias Gotobed, is paying a visit to Britain to study British society, and whilst here ruffles the feathers of the great and good of British society. There are certain parts of the novel where the Senator's expostulations are clearly a diatribe of Trollope's own grievances with British society, and indeed these areas are some of the weakest in the novel, but they are small and interspersed with some very funny instances of the Senator committing numerous faux pas.
However, the main thrust of the novel actually comes with a number of the characters who the Senator encounters on his visit. The "heroine" of the novel is Mary Masters, one of the sweet young things who Trollope creates, though thankfully not as annoying as his most famous example of this type of character, the Pollyanna-ish Lily Dale. Mary has become like a surrogate daughter to Lady Ushant and falls in love with her nephew Reginald Morton. Meanwhile, she is being courted by Larry Twentyman, a local farmer and fine young man who, despite his desperate and repeated attempts which are encouraged in particular by Mary's stepmother, fails to capture Mary's heart.
This main plot is pleasant enough to read and the main protagonists are all likeable characters. However, the real treat of the novel actually comes with its sub-plot, the story of the machinations of anti-heroine Arabella Trefoil. The novel has a slow start, but please do persist through that because you will then get to the point of meeting the delightfully naughty Arabella and be introduced to one of the most complex, intriguing and ultimately endearing female characters in literature.
Arabella is a beauty but without any fortune of her own, and clocking on a bit by the standards of the time (she is only 30). However, she carries hopes of making a brilliant marriage and is encouraged to this end by her heartless mother. However she has refused too many men who couldn't give her just the fortune she desired, or didn't have as high rank society as she desired and so is now in the later, desperate stages of trying to secure a husband. She carries on these machinations throughout the novel, despite being engaged to a well respected diplomat and local squire John Morton. John has a country estate, a decent fortune and is very well respected both as a man and diplomat. But Arabella is all the time trying to trap Lord Rufford into marriage, as he can provide her with a larger house, more money, and a title.
Through Arabella, Trollope provides a brilliant study and criticism of the "marriage-market" of the time. He evokes images of women "fishing" for husbands, whilst also showing a compassion for the fate of women such as Arabella in having to effectively sell themselves to the highest bidder. The novel is a great study of society at the time, but also just a darn good story.
There are one or two elements I did not like here though. As I said previously, the novel is a slow starter and it really took a good 100 pages to get going and really grip me. Also, there are some prolonged scenes of hunting, in which Trollope took a great interest, which are not really to the tastes of the modern reader (and I say that as someone who has no gripe with fox hunting). They just to do not seem relevant or interesting to our less rural society now and I happily skipped over some of his. The other slightly annoying element was the Senator himself. At times he was a little "preachy" for my liking, and perhaps not as funny to the modern sense of humour as when he was first written. Trollope is certainly at his most cynical, bordering on bitter, in this novel and this does make for at times a more uncomfortable read than we are used to in his work. However, it also does give an interesting glimpse into, and indictment of, the political system of the time.
All in all, The American Senator was an enjoyable read. However, if you are new to Trollope I would recommend starting with the Barset or Palliser novels and come to the American Senator when you are more familiar with Trollope's work as you will then be able to appreciate this novel more.