The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

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The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Plantaganet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, has become prime minister of a coalition government. This is the fifth of the six Palliser novels but perhaps not one of the best unless you're devoted to Victorian politics but it's still a good read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 736/27h6m Date: February 2011
Publisher: Audible Studios
ISBN: 978-0140433494

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Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, is the prime minister of a coalition government but he's privately enraged at the seemingly unstoppable rise of Ferdinand Lopez. Lopex is exotic - some describe him as Jewish, others as Portuguese but the truth is that no one knows and Lopez is not going to explain. The ladies of society, even Palliser's own wife, Lady Glencora, are supporters but after Lopez makes an advantageous marriage Palliser is placed in the position of having to support his wife's actions when Lopez loses a by-election. The Duke's payment of Lopez' election expenses in an attempt to stem gossip about his wife will come back to haunt him.

Anthony Trollope regarded The Prime Minister as his supreme achievement and - having read (or - more accurately - listened to) the first four of the Palliser novels I was looking forward to this novel as something of a treat. It's been impossible in the earlier novels to think of Trollope's Mr Daubeny and Mr Gresham as any other than Disraeli and Gladstone: now we have the opportunity to see Trollope's version of the perfect statesman - a man of integrity, breeding, inherited wealth and prestige. He's a scrupulous man - and, in politics, that makes him weak. His modesty translates as a lack of confidence but the love of power does grow on him.

There's no doubt that Trollope created Palliser in the image of which he had dreamed: the public was less satisfied back in the late eighteen-seventies and - nearly a hundred and fifty years - later I found no reason to be more convinced. Whilst I appreciated the story of Emily Wharton's infatuation with Ferdinand Lopez as another riff on Trollope's theme of unsuccessful marriages and how disadvantageous they are to women, I struggled to find the link to the main story - Palliser's government - more than tenuous. I struggled too with the coalition government: headed by a worthy man with little personality, the lack of any concrete policy left it seeming to be directionless. Truly, he was best as Chancellor of the Exchequer when he needed only to worry about the possibility of bringing in decimal currency and how many farthings there should be in a penny.

I warmed most to Lady Glencora Palliser. She's moved on from the days when she would have eloped with Burgo Fitzgerald and now throws herself into providing lavish entertainment to support the duke - whether he likes it or not. I had, too, a sneaking regard for Emily Wharton - along with a wish that she could have existed a century and a half later.

The Prime Minister would have been more enjoyable had my expectations been lower. It's a good but not a great read. As with earlier books in the series, I listened to an audio download, which I bought myself and which was narrated by Timothy West. It was superbly done and the voices have been consistent over the series. I was never in any doubt about which character was speaking and - in many ways - it was like listening to a play with added commentary.

I think the book would struggle a stand-alone: you really do need to know some of the histories of the characters to get the full enjoyment. Start with Can You Forgive Her?

Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels in Chronological Order

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