The Spire Chronicle is an extraordinarily vivid and interesting foray into Victorian Salisbury. The anonymous narrator recalls the life of Ralph Chatterforth in Ralph's own words, tracing his early life and the relationships, marriages, trials and tribulations of himself and his three closest friends, whom he met at school. One of these school friends, Thomas, a distinctly bad influence, remains his best friend throughout his life. The Victorian atmosphere, names and places evoke another, less fast-paced world of horses and carriages and rigidly controlled behaviour, where constraint of feelings, emotions and ambition are ever present, but human desires, hatreds and loves are just as they've always been.
I was expecting a tale of hedonistic selfishness, an unpleasant hero who rode roughshod over others, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although Ralph does terrible things, in fact absolutely appalling things (I won't spoil the book by listing them), he remains a likeable man, in fact someone forced by bad luck, force of circumstance and weakness of will into all his acts of vice. So don't expect some awful selfish rapacious character: Ralph does his best to help his friends, both male and female, and any acts of savagery are not rooted in wickedness.
It's very witty tale, with humour on every page, however there's a thread of sadness too, and you feel that poor Ralph is doomed by fate. Yet I can reveal there's a happy ending, and the reader can be genuinely delighted that this is the case. Ralph is a hero who does his best to be a good man, yet ends up acting dreadfully almost by mistake. Fate deals him blow after blow and he tries his best to survive. You feel as if you are privy to his innermost secrets, you know the reason why he behaves as he does, so you like him all the more. In fact his more worldly best friend, Thomas, is much more of a rogue, though never to Ralph.
From the death of his first sweetheart to the ignominy of an unhappy marriage and one ghastly blow following another, we are with Ralph all the way and thoroughly enjoy sharing his adventures.
`Anonymous''s Dickensian style works well, but it's a style very much his own too, a clever mix of humour and seriousness. There's certainly plenty of humour, lots of drama and an exciting climax. What's more, there's even a totally unexpected happy ending, so that you feel that Ralph can put his past misdeeds behind him and begin a better life.