Saturday, February 08, 2014

1. Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

Almost but not quite my edition
I chose this my third Trollope novel as part of the long book strategy to break me out of not reading at all.  So far it seems to have worked, as I steadily made my way through Phineas Redux and even got quite caught up in it at several points.  A big advantage to reading Trollope is that all his work is in the public domain, so if you forget your hardcopy, you can always download it at Gutenburg and read it on your phone or tablet.  No need to bother with synching products that tie you in to one provider either, because Trollope wrote in short, well-labelled chapters.  You just remember the name of the chapter you were on and it is then quite easy to find where you last left off.

I chose Phineas Redux simply because I found it somewhere (I think the free store on Lasqueti Island actually) and it was a beat-up paperback that I didn't need to worry about preserving.  It turns out that this is actually the 4th book in the Palliser series and that last Trollope I read (way back in the summer of 2011), The Eustace Diamonds, was the 3rd!  So now by all the laws of mightly Biblius, I must read the entire series, or at least books 5 and 6.

Phineas Redux is the story of Phineas Finn, the eponymous Irishman from the second book in the series (and who plays only the most incidental role in the Eustace Diamonds).  He was once and up-and-comping Liberal MP, who made a political sacrifice and returned to Ireland to marry and work an administrative job.  But his wife died in childbirth and in Phineas Redux he comes back to take another stab at the parliamentary life.  There are several storylines going through this, including a romantic one. The biggest theme is his struggle with the value of being a politician.  At first, he easily reverses his positions depending on what the party asks of him or if it is necessary to win an election.  As things become complicated, and he doesn't receive the expected support from the leaders of the party, he begins to doubt his career choice.

At first, I found it less focused and more like a soap opera than his other two books that I had read.  I also found some of the characters most unlikeable.  Phineas himself becomes kind of a wet sock for a while as well.  But by the end, I was convinced that their actions and behaviour reflected a realistic portrayal of political ennui and disenchantment.  I think, though, that on the whole I am leaning more towards the Barsetshire series, rather than the Palliser, because the location is so much richer in the former.

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