Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The first of the Palliser novels might seem like a monster read at 864 pages or 28hours and 8 minutes listening but it's well constructed and extremely enjoyable. I listened to an audio download narrated by Timothy West which was exceptionally well done. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 864/28h8m Date: February 2010
Publisher: Audible
ISBN: 978-0140430868

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On the surface Can You Forgive Her? looks deceptively simple: it's the story of one woman and two men who are vying with each other for her love. Alice Vavasor was originally engaged to her cousin, George Vavasor but she broke off that engagement and later became engaged to John Grey. When we first meet Alice she's on an extended tour of the continent with George Vavasor and his sister Kate. It's obvious that there's still a great deal of chemistry between John and Alice - and Kate is all for encouraging the relationship as it would tie Alice to her. George wants Alice but it's a matter of amour propre rather than love: he has little consideration for anyone other than himself and the original engagement had fallen through because of his infidelity and deceitfulness. This thread is the story of a very complicated love affair and a woman who lacks confidence in her own judgement. You might not like Alice to start with but you will warm to her.

But that's only the first trio: we then meet Lady Glencora Palliser, Plantagenet Palliser and Burgo Fitzgerald. Lady Glencora was 'encouraged' to marry Plantagenet Palliser, despite the fact that she was in love with Burgo Fitzgerald who had little to recommend him. This thread is the glory of the book, particularly the study of Plantagenet Pallister, an honourable man and a noble man in the true sense of the word. This doesn't sit quite comfortably with the vision we had of him in The Small House at Allington where he was involved in an abortive flirtation with a married woman. I have wondered if Trollope regretted involving his hero, the future Duke of Omnium and resident of Gatherum Castle in such shenanigans. It's a superb part of the story and the dramatic tension is palpable at times. Strangely, you'll like Lady Glencora (who can be devilish) from the start, despite the fact that she's considering leaving her husband to live with another man. And what a man: Burgo Fitzgerald is one of Trollope's masterpieces: the perfect cad, dissolute, utterly irresponsible and (unfortunately) loveable.

The final trio is the widowed Mrs Greenow, Mr Cheeseacre and Captain Bellfield. You could be forgiven for thinking that this trio has been included for comic effect as it adds little to the story. Mrs Greenow is the aunt of Alice and George Vavasor: Anthony Trollope is usually sound on social distinctions but this must be the exception which proves the rule: the Vavasors are well-bred whilst the widow Greenhow is obviously not. You could even skip these sections of the book and lose little.

The threads intertwine as the relationships resolve themselves - not always as you would wish, but resolve themselves they do. It's a superb read and highly recommended.

Can You Forgive Her? is the first of the Palliser Novels, sometimes called the Parliamentary Novels but reads well without thought of reading the next book in the series. I listened to an audio download (which I bought myself) by Timothy West, who is superb, with an extensive range of completely compelling voices, both male and female. His pacing is excellent and he doesn't intrude between the story and the reader. I've already acquired the next book narrated by West.

If you'd like something similar, you might like to try Jane Austen.

Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels in Chronological Order

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