Book Review: ‘The Way We Live Now’

By on January 9, 2013
‘The Way We Live Now’ by Anthony Trollope - cover art

‘The Way We Live Now’ by Anthony Trollope – cover art

 

This is a special time of year for readers. The big holiday books have been released and reviewed yet the first line of major 2013 books has yet to hit stores. I see this time as perfect for exploring books that I missed along the way in life. And since the new year began I’ve been engrossed in Anthony Trollope’s 1875 masterpiece “The Way We Live Now.”

Trollope doesn’t get the attention or love in the United States that his contemporary Charles Dickens has always received. And, while they are very different writers, both wrote for magazine serialization. As a result, most chapters end with a cliffhanger, similar to a television drama, to excite you about what comes next. Since “The Way We Live Now” has around 100 chapters, that is an invaluable approach.

There are numerous subplots but at its core the tale involves a man, Augustus Melmotte, widely known to be a swindler yet so successful that he is declared the greatest financier and economic engine of England. Among the schemes Melmotte creates is a stock fraud, into which almost every character stumbles despite knowing better, resulting in complicity and ruin. Taking place in the 19th century, the fraud centers on a proposed railroad, but if you substituted Enron or Bernie Madoff you would see little has changed.

Perhaps the excitement generated over here by Downtown Abbey will get some people to pick this book up. But to those readers I would recommend one classic and one contemporary writer who have an even deeper sense of the filigree of class: Evelyn Waugh and Edward St. Aubyn. This is not to say that fans of the show won’t enjoy Trollope’s working farmers, impoverished nobles and the scheming for money that overcomes virtually the entire novel. But the best reason for reading “The Way We Live Now” is just how relevant the novel appears to the way we live now.


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