The Man of Property (Forsyte Chronicles, Book 1) (Forsyte Saga) - John Galsworthy
I remember the late BBC television adaptation of this book - and presumably one or more of its sequels - being shown on television when I was a young teenager. I didn't watch it, probably because it was aimed at the grown-ups and as a thirteen year old I wasn't much of a fan of bonnet-and-long-frock drama series. A shame really, because if the television series was as good as this book, it must have made very fine viewing indeed.

This is the first novel in what ultimately became a nine novel, multi-generational family saga. It concerns the extended Forsyte family, a wealthy middle class London family of yeoman farmer stock. At the beginning of the novel, all ten elderly Forsyte siblings are still alive. Their father had made money and moved to London, where the six sons of the family successfully engage in business and the professions. Some of the Forsyte siblings are married, some are not. Some have children to carry on the family name, others are childless. What distinguishes a true Forsyte, though, is not membership of a wealthy and successful family but a particular philosophy. Acquisitiveness is a somewhat simplistic but nevertheless accurate description of that philosophy. Greed is another.

I'm not sure what I expected when I started listening to the audiobook edition of the novel. However, I was in the mood for another multi-generational family saga, having just read Thomas Mann's remarkable [b:Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family|80890|Buddenbrooks The Decline of a Family|Thomas Mann||3458174]. The novels are set in roughly the same period and deal with many of the same concerns, including marriage, the position of women and the role of the family as an economic unit - with Mann concentrating more on the family as a whole and Galsworthy on individuals within the family. Both novels feature an omniscient, ironic narrator, although in Buddenbrooks the narrator is rather more detached than the narrator in The Man of Property.

What I hadn't expected to find in this novel is a biting satire on late Victorian middle class values. The little that I've read about Galsworthy (thank you, Wikipedia!) indicates that he was a social activist who campaigned for issues such as women's rights, prison reform and animal welfare. Galsworthy's progressive attitudes are revealed in the text in a not particularly subtle way. However, what his writing lacks in subtlety is more than made up for by irony, humour, excellent prose, memorable characters and a vivid evocation of time and place.

When I acquired the audiobook, I failed to notice that it was narrated by David Case. Also known as Frederick Davidson, the late Mr Case is a narrator I generally avoid. I initially thought that his affected drawl would make me throw my iPod against the wall. However, I realised quite soon that his supercilious tone entirely suits the novel and that his voices for all of the characters were just right. My iPod has thankfully emerged undamaged from the experience.