This sixth book in the Barchester Chronicles provides a satisfying, yet bittersweet, ending to the series. The main plot focuses on the unfortunate Reverend Josiah Crawley, an impoverished man of unbending integrity and crippling pride who is, to everyone’s shock, accused of stealing a cheque. Familiar faces abound in the subplots, which include the courtship of disgraced Grace Crawley by Archdeacon Grantly’s widowed son, the romantic tribulations of Johnny Eames and Lily Dale (main characters from the previous book, The Small House at Allington), hen-pecked Bishop Proudie and his dreadful wife’s involvement in the Crawley affair, and the latter years of dear old Septimus Harding, protagonist of the first book in the series, The Warden. Overall, the tone of the book is more serious and less witty than the reader might expect and the stories are somewhat less engaging than could be hoped, but any author that can bring tears to my eyes twice in one book must be doing something right.
A note for readers new to the series: Those with the time and inclination to read the whole series and the patience to endure its lower-quality third and fourth books will be well rewarded. However, for less perfectionist readers, I feel that it is entirely reasonable to skip the third and fourth books altogether. And for readers even less ambitious, the first two books would suffice (the second book, Barchester Towers, is actually my favourite of the entire series). Readers new to Trollope and hesitant to invest time and energy will be glad to learn that the first book, The Warden, is not only the shortest in the series, but gives a very good indication of what they are in for if they continue.
[Why I read it: it concludes the Barchester Chronicles series, which I started six months ago.]