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The Towers of Trebizond

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"'Take my camel, dear,' said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass." So begins The Towers of Trebizond, the greatest novel by Rose Macaulay, one of the eccentric geniuses of English literature. In this fine and funny adventure set in the backlands of modern Turkey, a group of highly unusual travel companions makes its way from Istanbul to legendary Trebizond, encountering potion-dealing sorcerers, recalcitrant policemen, and Billy Graham on tour with a busload of Southern evangelists. But though the dominant note of the novel is humorous, its pages are shadowed by heartbreak as the narrator confronts the specters of ancient empires, religious turmoil, and painful memories of lost love.

277 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1956

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About the author

Rose Macaulay

87 books94 followers
Emilie Rose Macaulay, whom Elizabeth Bowen called "one of the few writers of whom it may be said, she adorns our century," was born at Rugby, where her father was an assistant master. Descended on both sides from a long line of clerical ancestors, she felt Anglicanism was in her blood. Much of her childhood was spent in Varazze, near Genoa, and memories of Italy fill the early novels. The family returned to England in 1894 and settled in Oxford. She read history at Somerville, and on coming down lived with her family first in Wales, then near Cambridge, where her father had been appointed a lecturer in English. There she began a writing career which was to span fifty years with the publication of her first novel, Abbots Verney, in 1906. When her sixth novel, The Lee Shore (1912), won a literary prize, a gift from her uncle allowed her to rent a tiny flat in London, and she plunged happily into London literary life.

From BookRags: http://www.bookrags.com/biography/ros...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 304 reviews
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,644 reviews5,092 followers
September 2, 2016
oh to travel, isn't that just the thing, everyone's favorite hobby, to get away and have adventures, see life from different angles, take in history and view the panorama of the world all at the same time, you go some wheres and see some things, but unless you are traveling for pure thrill-seeking or just to find a new setting to drink and to flirt, you go to someplace and see those things and you are really seeing all the things before them, the history of a place, reading and thinking and dreaming about all the things that used to be in that place, and so you find yourself in front of something that is quaint or beautiful or melancholy or depressing or even inexplicable but it is much more than that specific thing or place, it is at once itself and also all the things that came before, things you can never see and can only imagine. oh to time travel, that would really be the thing.

the 1956 novel Towers of Trebizond is about a trip to Turkey and beyond, and then back again to England. our narrator is Laurie and is accompanied, at first, by eccentric Aunt Dot and the vaguely malevolent Father Chantry-Pigg. they have different goals: Dot wants to emancipate women, Pigg wants to convert Muslims into high Anglicans, Laurie wants to relax & paint & contemplate history and religion & think on an adulterous, long-lasting, still current love affair. the whole thing is quite deadpan and, I suppose, almost stereotypically "upper-middle class English" - chatty, often dry, eccentric, judgmental, amusing, and amused. for a fully grown and obviously well-educated character, Laurie has an almost peculiarly child-like voice, faux-naïf I suppose. but perhaps not so faux at times. and at other times, not so naïf either. while there is a genuine and alternately irritating and charming innocence to Laurie's every thought process, there is also an odd and winsome sort of wisdom as well, one that casually demolishes religion and government and nations and nationalism at every turn.

the style takes some getting used to. as with many of my reviews, I tried to imitate it a little bit, in this case in my first paragraph. many long, long sentences, full of asides and off-kilter bits of commentary, often followed up by a brief, to-the-point sentence that runs in a different direction. so at first it was a challenge for me to stay focused on the story at hand as I lost myself in all the rather fabulously constructed but initially quite distancing prose. but as is often the case with me, a challenging style will also keep my interest, even when I'm being frustrated, and so after a few chapters what was a difficulty became a genuine delight. a witty and enchanting delight.

whimsical Laurie nonchalantly brings home an ape (the kind of ape is never specified), and there is a charmingly detailed little sequence showing the ins and outs of living with and training an ape who you want to act and think as a human. this is a minor (but thematically relevant) part of the book, but it is so delightful that I had to mention it.

because this novel is so droll and delightful, it was a painful shock when it took a surprise turn towards the tragic in its final act. shocking but it also rang true - a bleak and clear-eyed and not very warm kind of true. well, I guess I should have been warned when that one character gets eaten by a shark early on, and not much is made of it - Towers of Trebizond has a fist of cold iron underneath that lovely little glove.

Laurie travels like I've traveled: slowly, preferring to really get to know a place in its current incarnation while simultaneously imagining all the lost wonders of what came before. I suppose it can be a rather melancholy way of traveling, looking at the present but devoting as much time to the contemplation of the past, what has been lost and what can never be seen again. so I really got Laurie, I connected to the character and Laurie's oddly offhand, distracted, casual, thoughtful but still rather shallow way of looking at the world. I've also traveled through Turkey and been to many of the same places. Surprisingly, not only did I understand and agree with her assessment of the country and its people - over 50 years later! - I also found I was in almost complete sympathy with her thoughts on so many other things: how history can be viewed and how the history of humanity itself and its never-changing nature can be viewed - two entirely different things; religion in general and her confused and rather longing thoughts on God and belief; how love can feel and what that feeling can turn into when the object of your love is forcibly and permanently taken from you; how a person can then distract themselves with all the wonders of life and the world, and so how a person can just carry on, survive, a part of you dead but the rest of you still able to live and find pleasure and even delight in what the world has to offer, a shadow of true happiness but at least not a pale one. Trebizond's towers, and the city itself, will always be a place where Laurie can return, in her mind or in person, as a place that soothes and delights, a kind of constant, both a sweet memory and a pleasing reality... but how can any such place be the same, be seen as the same even if it actually remains the same, how can it give the same reward when you yourself have been changed?
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
796 reviews583 followers
September 25, 2019
I've changed my mind and I'm awarding the full 5★. I found the ending a bit abrupt and the change in tone quite startling - but it is 20th century. That was the way 20th century fiction rolled!

Or is it fiction? I've read a review that describes this novel as a roman à clef which is certainly how it feels. Definitely a satire about the travels of the wide-eyed and guileless Laurie and her travels through Turkey and beyond.

I found this old map helpful;

It isn't long before you realise the camel (subject of one of the most famous opening lines in literature) isn't the only one not right in the head!

The Retro Reads Group didn't think this camel looked deranged enough;

Well, I think it has a distinctly sly and self satisfied expression - & I couldn't find a picture of an Arabian Dhalur camel - white or otherwise.

Macaulay wrote this book in her late sixties - a remarkable achievement, and possibly a remarkable feet of memory. I really want to do some more research.

Undated photo from my dustjacket

This book is a keeper and as I'm trying to downsize my collection I can't give higher praise than that!

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,507 followers
July 7, 2015
This book was a pleasant surprise, full of understated humor and wisdom about the pull of the ancient world on the self and the scope of human aspiration and folly over religion. It fits the bill for my love of travel books that portray together an outer journey and an inner journey of the traveler. As a novel we are looking through the mask of young Laurie as she recounts a tale of traveling with her Aunt Dot and a stuffy old Anglican priest, Father Chantry-Pigg, under the goal of scouting out communities along the Black Sea for their promise as targets for Anglican missionary work. They travel mostly by camel, which they bring by boat from England to Istanbul, and, after picking up a car and their Turkish friend, a lady professor converted to their church on a former stay in London, set out to the east along the Black Sea. Even before this motley crew hits the road, it’s clear that mostly they are out on a lark.

It’s practically in Aunt Dot’s blood to seek out the most remote, inaccessible communities in her work for the missionary society, especially in areas with an ancient, exotic history. It’s a family tradition for centuries to fuse the evangelical metaphor of fishing for souls to convert and actual fishing. She loves camping out under the stars. Her subversive personal mission is to nurture the hunger for freedom among women under the yoke of submission and constraint of Islam and other religions. Chantry-Pigg tolerates her radical streak and aligns with her desires to visit all the ruins of the ancient they can fit into their travels. His obsession is with the Byzantines and the continuity of the Greeks in their high civilization. He is a constant advocate for the High Anglican traditions closest to Catholicism, but he is not driven by missionary fervor. Instead, his secret aim seems lie with sainthood, as he wants to test out the healing powers of relics has spirited out of churches back home. Each hopes to have adventures significant enough to justify turning their journals into books. Laurie’s job is to prepare watercolors which might be used to illustrate Dot’s book.

An early high point to their trip is their visit to the alluring exotic Trebizond, ancient capital of Byzantium in decline from the 13th to 16th centuries after the Ottoman Turks made their empire, and long a commercial gateway to Persia and the Caucasus. The Muslims there are not receptive, and they are miffed that the Seventh Day Adventists and Billy Graham’s crusades seem to by making more inroads in the fishing business. But their professor friend, Halide, doubts that any branch of Christianity can make significant lasting conversions of the Muslims. And despite the secularism brought to Turkey by the regime of Attaturk, the women she feels will never brave the choice to desert conservative traditions. The choice to go bareheaded is still governs provincial societies far from Istanbul.

“They said it led to unbridled temptation among men.”
“Men must learn to bridle their temptations,” said aunt Dot, always an optimist. “They must be converted too.

From her own wavering conversion, Halide sees a particular lack of fit for the Anglican faith, and she reflects back to Laurie what she already knows on how this goal is not what really drives Dot:

They have said to me, ‘The Bible, yes. Jesus Christ, yes. Holy Communion, no.’ And the Church of England, isn’t it, is built around Holy Communion, what you call the Mass. That is what your Father Chantry-Pigg would tell people; and it won’t go well with Moslems, I can assure you. I know what I talk about. Dot is a romantic woman, her feet aren’t on the ground. She thinks she is practical, a woman of business, but no, she is a woman of dreams. Mad dreams, dreams of crazy impossible things. And they aren’t all of conversion to the Church, oh no. Nor all of the liberation of women, oh no. Her eyes are on far mountains, always some far peak where she will go. She looks so firm and practical, that nice face, so fair and plump and shrewd, but look in her eyes, you will sometimes catch a strange gleam. Isn’t it so?”

As they continue further east, they start to feel the lure of Armenia and climbing Mount Ararat. But the prospect of finding Seventh Day Adventists at the top waiting for the Second Coming tempers their enthusiasm. Instead they both find themselves wishing to visit the Caucasus, full of ancient ruins of the Tartars, to imagine a time of trade in Circassian slaves, to experience people who drink the fermented mare’s milk called koumiss. I won’t say anything more about their adventures, but instead I will delve a bit into the story of Laurie, who continually draws the reader onward on a quest to know what makes her tick.

We get to spend more time with her in Trebizond, which she notes as “a place which had some strange hidden meaning, which I must try to dig up.” In this part of a long riff about the Byzantines she captures so well the sense I have gotten from visiting places with ancient history:

…they had had no dull moments, they had babbled and built and painted and quarreled and murdered and tortured and prayed and formed heresies and doctrines and creeds and sacramentaries, they had argued and disputed and made factions and rebellions and palace revolutions, and to and fro their feet seemed to pass among the grasses that had been marble floors , and the last Greek empire brooded like a ghost in that forlorn fag end of time to which I too had come, lost and looking for I did not know what, while my camel munched on leaves of the carob tree outside the ruined wall.

Towers of Trebizond in a fanciful rendering by Pisanello, 1436

We come to learn that Laurie, despite her family history, cannot fully commit to the Anglican faith because she is not ready to confess for her sins (which I ain’t telling). And that she is not above using a bit of blackmail to garner favors to make her way (is that a form of feminism?). And as we follow her delightful journey south though Turkey, and on through Cyprus, Syria, and Lebanon to Jerusalem, we feel the need to pin her down as either a cynical realist or romantic dreamer. Along the way she acquires a Barbary ape as a pet, and you will be challenged to figure out what kind of game she (and Macauley) are playing over the impossible things she is able to train the ape to do. It is a relief not to hold back on feeling the comedy in this tall tale.

Profile Image for Tony.
906 reviews1,513 followers
December 19, 2014
“Take my camel,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from the animal on her return from High Mass.

First lines. I love them. Because, if they're like this, how can you not stop whatever you're doing and insist on finding out just who could write such a thing!

And who couldn't love a camel?

I'm about two reviews away from a discussion of how I may not be a feminist though I would very much like to be one. [You may want to read that first - The Pumpkin Eater - even though it's not written yet, to understand what I'm trying to say.] So, with that confusing preamble, I think this is one of the great Feminist novels. But since I may not be one, I could be wrong. So Aubrey you should read this and see if I'm right. And Janet, you should read this since you keep your passports. Karen, you'd howl. Garima, you'd howl. Fionnuala, you'd fall in love with it. Kalliope, you too. Michael, you might book a steamer to Turkey. Geoff, you might book a steamer to Turkey. Annie and Sara (if you read this), you should read this. Lisa and Ted, you're not reading this? Is something wrong? Nathan, not all weird stuff is modern and male. Even, dare I say it, real life people should read this too.

Laurie is traveling with her Aunt Dot (and that camel) and the Dickensian-named Father Chantry-Pigg to the Mid-East, the Crimea (so topical) and Turkey and points beyond. Dot and Pigg are on a missionary quest, but aunt Dot also is obsessed with gathering intelligence of the ill-treatment of Moslem women (so more topical). It's less clear why Laurie is accompanying them since she has her doubts. Dot and Pigg, an unlikely duo, cross illegally into Russia. Laurie deals with the underlying theme of her adultery. She is unashamed.

I was a religious child Laurie says, when I had time to give it thought; at fourteen or so I became an agnostic, and felt guilty about being confirmed, though I did not like to say so. I was an agnostic through school and university, then, at twenty-three, took up with the Church again; but the Church met its Waterloo a few years later when I took up with adultery; (curious how we always seem to see Waterloo from the French angle and count it a defeat) and this adultery lasted on and on, and I was still in it now, steaming down the Black Sea to Trebizond, and I saw no prospect of its ending except with death--the death of one of the three people, and perhaps it would be my own.

The camel isn't the only animal with a starring role. There's an ape: a chimp, I think, named Suleiman. This strained credulity. A chimp that learns to drive? But, Laurie took him to church. High Mass. And Suleiman participates. Long after I forget the rest of the story, if I ever do, I will remember Suleiman in church, mimicking the other worshippers.

Read this.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,019 reviews457 followers
November 28, 2021
On GoodReads I think my review has made this novel being rated 1500 times and being reviewed 278 times. So, it’s been read and been reviewed but doesn’t come anywhere close to being a ‘best-seller’. It is considered by Wikipedia to be her most important work, and the New York Review of Books has re-published it in their classic series (with an introduction by Jan Morris). So, it is well-respected.

The book I got from the library is a first edition (US) from when it was published in 1956. It shows on the front cover of the dustjacket a pen and ink drawing of an Iman, an Anglican cleric, a women covered from head to toe in a veil, an English-looking woman with a hat on, and in the background a woman astride a camel, along with other sundry characters. These are drawings of some of the characters who are in the novel including Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg (in their 60s) and Aunt Dot’s niece, Laurie (probably in her 30s or early 40s), and the camel who is deemed mentally deranged at times (yes, the camel). They are visiting Turkey. Time period is probably contemporaneous when Macaulay wrote this novel, in the 1950s.

Summary from the inner cover of the dust jacket: "It tells a beautifully absurd story of Aunt Dot, her niece Laurie, and Father Chantry-Pigg who go to Turkey to explore the possibilities of establishing a High Anglican mission there. The object of the party is twofold: Father Chantry-Pigg’s being to set up Anglican outposts in Turkey and to climb Mount Ararat, Aunt Dot’s to emancipate Turkish women into wearing hats, bathing in the sea, and playing tric-trac like their menfolk. Laurie’s object is pleasure, musings on the historical past, and dreams of her lover, a married cousin whose mistress she has been for ten years and whose love has drawn her from the church she still impossibly believes in.”

The book is hard for me to describe…. it’s sort of like a travelogue and I think that is in part what Macaulay was known for…writing about other countries. It is also semi-autobiographical. This article from the Paris Review written by Lucy Scholes tells us the back story of Rose Macaulay which is fascinating (maybe because I read Towers of Trebizond, but I think it is more than that because it talks of her personal library and what it contained and how she lost her books as well as important letters from her lover in a fire in London during the Blitz in WW II).

I found some parts of the book to be boring, but I think it was this passage early on that convinced me to read on and finish it. It’s when Laurie is relating something the Reverend Billy Graham told an audience at a revival meeting she was attending in Turkey about immorality:
• “…and at the Judgment Day God would say “You thought no one saw you that evening on the beach, but I saw you, I took a picture of you.”
I knew it…when I die I will be called onto the carpet by God and he’ll produce a bunch of Polaroids showing me all the times I sinned in my lifetime…he took pictures of me sinning to prove it!!!
I thought it was quite funny, and this book does contain humor and some seriousness (a shocker of a final chapter…was totally not expecting how she ended it).

Fascinating review of another novel by her — The World My Wilderness [1950] — but also a brief and interesting biography of her life by Lucy Scholes: The Paris Review - Re-Covered: The World My Wilderness - The Paris Review

• Very good review! https://www.salon.com/2004/03/08/maca...
Profile Image for Dillwynia Peter.
330 reviews64 followers
August 5, 2016
This is one of the most bizarre books I have ever read - and I have read some truly strange stuff.

I found the book moved along a gradient from comedy to almost essay and that takes some doing, especially as, I the reader, didn't object. I laughed loudly and frequently at the biazarre behaviour, discussions and commentary of our narrator and companions. The chief theme - Anglo-Catholicism is not to everyone's taste and I suspect it would lose some readers, but this was a theme dear to Macauley's heart, and one not well expressed in literature. In fact, I doubt that many people are even aware of the Anglo-Catholic sect within the Church of England (the Queen is one BTW). I grew up in a High Church household, but not deeply within the Anglo-Catholic theology. I wouldn't encounter this sect till living in Sydney and singing.

It also helps if you have been raised on Stella Gibbons and Nancy Mitford. If you don't have this background, you just won't find this funny, and more likely ponderous. However, if you are a fan of these two writers, then you will be captivated by her writing and will be sucked in, and most likely deal with the occasionally mildly preachy to didactic discussion on religion. Macauley never gives you a definitive answer, just her thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I did like this as I don't want to be told the absolute truth on philosophical concepts.

Macauley describes a world that has vanished: a world that sees the British Empire as a dominant force, and that the English will travel, be well versed on the antiquities of the Middle East, but almost totally ignorant of the present (only a 2000 year discrepancy). But she does hint - the Empire is crumbling and her influence is waning. She also makes a comment on how the Levant felt about the British interference immediately after the 2nd World War - another interference now forgotten, but still felt.

The book is rich in concepts - xenophobia, empirical ignorance, fads in publishing (everyone is writing a book on Turkey), religion, missionary work and its affects on the locals, differing cultures and globalisation. All are treated in an idiosyncratic way, and shows a woman who was well read, highly educated and on the ball on contemporary issues.

This novel is also autobiographical. This comes as a surprise to the reader, but it sort of explains the very strange ending; which I will admit felt incongruous and about the only truly weak point in the novel (I don't wish to spoil your pleasure & is hinted or discussed in other reviews here).

I plan on reading more Macauley as a result of this novel. This book also have one of the most famous strange opening sentences: Take my camel, dear.
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews120 followers
November 3, 2020
In 1956 author Rose Macaulay published her last novel, a delightfully loopy story of a maiden aunt, her Anglican vicar, her niece the narrator, their mentally disturbed camel and the occasional hangers-on who embark on a trip into the remoter parts of the Middle East in search of ancient architecture and risk incursion into the Soviet Union. Engaging semi-satire, partly autobiographical, opened up by occasional bursts of grace, and blissfully lacking in "cute." In fact, Macaulay's prose "sells" the story with its deep-down integrity no matter how silly the characters or sillier the circumstances they face. I know of no other book quite like THE TOWERS OF TREBIZOND and while not everyone will like it as much as I do, it's definitely worth checking out.

I'm very grateful to the New York Review of Books for making this an NYRB book.

from the book:
"Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. The camel, a white Arabian Dhalur from the famous herd of the Ruola tribe, had been a parting present . . . I always thought it to my aunt's credit that, in view of the camel's provenance, she had not named it Zenobia, Longinus or Aurelian, as lesser women would have done; she had, instead, in a distant voice, always called it my camel, or the camel.
(p. 3)
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews762 followers
July 30, 2015
I didn't howl, no, but I certainly snorted in quite a few places.

Yes, it is funny and absurd and all over the place and skewers travel books and travel writers and publishing and the press and spying and the iron curtain (Burgess and Maclean) and it's incredibly erudite too, with Xenophon and the Euxine Sea and Priam and Hecuba and translators of the Classics and people travelling round these ancient places with an ancient guidebook in their hand and only seeing what they already know, and the snobbism (isn't snobbism a word?) of people who think that Venice is 'spoilt', which basically means that there are just far too many vulgar tourists there (with Lonely Planet rather than Arrian of Nicomedia, I suppose), but we're not vulgar, no, because we're travellers and we're writing a book about Something Serious, yes, and there is a chess-playing, car-driving ape called Suliman, it has all those things as well as having narrator whose faux-naive voice stops it from being twee, which it so easily could be, but isn't, so what, in that clichéd phrase, dear girl, what is there not to love?

All the bleeding religion, that's what's not to love. Because Laurie is 'Christ-haunted' as Flannery O'Connor put it, or rather not so much Christ-haunted as religion-haunted. She has a brand of 'flimsy and broken-backed but incurable religion'. So there's an awful lot about religion, because rather than being glad to be shot of the whole useless baggage, Laurie is a bit obsessed with getting back into the fabled city shimmering on a far horizon. Poor girl still believes that "at the city's heart lie the pattern and the hard core, and these I can never make my own: they are too far outside my range."

They were never even anywhere near mine.
Profile Image for Jacob Overmark.
204 reviews9 followers
November 24, 2018
The Towers of Trebizond doesn´t seem much from faraway, faraway being 62 years ago.

However, the clichés of British eccentricity does tower quite a lot.

I admit you would probably find it more entertaining if you are more into the fine art of distinguishing between the branches of the Anglican tree and take a delight in lashing out at the Moslem community and the Billy-Grahamnists for not seeing the true light of the British god.

A roman à clef, where crisis of faith and doubts about the moral consequences of being in a relationship with a married man are the main themes - though wrapped in a travelogue from Turkey and The Levant.

Sometimes amusing, sometimes bordering the boring, and trust me, once you have used a camel as means of transportation you stop finding them charming in any way.

Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,272 reviews557 followers
April 19, 2014
Truthfully, two 5 stars in one week!! THANK YOU, GR friends- and both from genre less visited.

An absolute masterpiece. OMG, why is it so rare that this level of wit, erudite comparison and pure exuberance can be filtered into less than 300 (277)pages within the last 50 years?

Well- no review or synopsis here of plot because others on this page have done it better. But this travel covers not just Turkey and other countries in the Mideast (early 1950's) but also discourse and depth of comparison and relationship to LARGE chunks of Western Civilization's history/philosophy/religion/tribal identity- you name it. From the Greeks onwards- definitions of the soul and conscience and our logic over our love. And even to the questions of which, if any, animals have souls. And of course the Christian eyes on the state of the Moslem woman folk met. Amidst such glorious tales of humor and descriptive nature.

But the straight form of long run on sentences with hardly a paragraph indent! You would think that a detriment. No, the whirl enhances and it enlarges the emotion.

Reading a few other post reviews after finishing this book, I was rather flummoxed by the level of judgment against Laurie's (no spoiler here) let's say- the mistake or outcome at the very end of the book. And also at the adjectives used to describe the organized religion dogma inclusions of length and other human religious FAITH contexts within this novel of The Towers of Trebizond.

It's the very dichotomy of Laurie's self-described condition. Within BOTH categories. Is "the problem" from within her own soul's belief ability or is it within organizational entity of Church itself- its authoritative practice. Not a pejorative issue against Laurie as an individual person at all. Tragedy happens. Humans are forever distracted and flawed. They have temperaments and they do make mistakes. It is in the very nature of being human. There is no total attention perfection- never completely.

But the fun in this book! And the serendipity sneakiness! And the physical and communicative obstacles to surmount!

So glad I had so many years in Roman Catholic schools from the 1950's onward, so I could chew the full bite of the apple on this one. And yet I still had to look up at least 4 or 5 different new English words, at that, during this read.

Absolutely delightful. Surely in the top 10 I will have read in 2014, although it is only April. And that first sentence is not the only great quote.

Profile Image for Christy.
124 reviews52 followers
May 4, 2009
That's it. This book has usurped all my top ten and is now and will possibly forever be, my favorite book.

In a book quirky, comic, and tragic, a woman travels through Turkey (by camel and jeep) with her adventurous zealous Aunt Dot who, enabled by the Anglican Missions society, has a vision of emancipating Turkish women from their Muslim enslavement by tempting them with the freedoms of the Modern West and the Anglican church (hats, tea parties, education etc.) They are joined by the septuagenarian Father Chantry-Pigg,who dreams of converting Muslim heathens to the warm bosom of Christianity with his High Church relics and simultaneously discovering those long lost Byzantines (Greek; Christian) in the heart of the new secular state of Turkey (Muslim usurpers of Byzantium).

The narrator records the travelers movements, the camel's rascally temperament, the landscape, the culture, the food, the Russian spies, humoring the ridiculous efforts of her aunt and Father Hugh. Her doubts about her inherited faith make her moments of illumination insightful and never pious. She is a woman who cannot escape her connection to the Church, but also cannot escape her estrangement from it.

Religious history and rituals, travel, history, myth, romance, despair, frisky camels - this book has it all. It is an entertaining romp, funny, insightful, and deeply sad. There can be no better combination.
Profile Image for Daisy.
191 reviews67 followers
October 1, 2022
I don’t like travel writing, I never read travel writing so I can only assume I had had a break with my own personality when I added this to my ‘to read’ list. This was even worse than travel writing as it was a fictionalised piece of travel writing.
My god was it boring.
Nothing happened over the course of 250 pages.
Allegedly it was about a young woman Laurie who travels to Turkey with her Aunt Dot and an Anglican vicar Father Chantry-Pigg. Dot is supposed to be interested in women’s rights but that interest is confined to speaking to a few local women while chin-stroking in the same way that BBC reporters do when they go to a ‘deprived’ area and use their public school education to feign concern and empathy with their interviewees. Father Chantry-Pigg is out to convert.
Less than halfway through these two go missing from the narrative after sneaking into Russia and the rest of the book is taken up with the even duller Laurie who we follow on her journey to meet her lover as he docks in Turkey for a few days amid his glamourous holiday on board a superyacht (I just kept thinking of Philip Green and thinking I’m not sure I would travel 3 stops on the W14 let alone trek on a camel for a week for him). Her lover is married and so this is an illicit meeting but again so devoid of passion or interest that it could serve as a poster for the sexual continence brigade.
Part of the journey is made on a camel that is always described using various synonyms of mad (although it never does anything to warrant this description). Halfway through Macauley seems to lose interest in her own book, or maybe realises that most people wouldn’t get that far, and just uses insane. Repeatedly.
An accomplishment of writing so much of nothing.
Profile Image for Renata.
132 reviews131 followers
June 26, 2016
Read this humorous, warmly satirical, adventure-travel novel years ago and was just reminded of its pleasures as I began a reread of the authors collection of essays appropriately titled Personal Pleasures. Certainly high up on that list should be one titled On Rereading of Favorite Books. If Rose Macaulay were still with us today, her line from the essay Booksellers Catalogues would be a reflection on the pleasures of Good Reads: "To Read these catalogues is like drinking wine in the middle of the morning; it elevates one into that state of felicitous intoxication in which one feels capable of anything. I must control myself, and not write to booksellers in haste ..." Or, for me, not keep adding to my towering TBR list!!! "In short, I am sober again. But I am glad I was drunk"
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,291 reviews279 followers
February 7, 2017
This is one of those mid-century 'classic' British novels that is still cherished by devotees of the period, but not particularly well-known now - except for, perhaps, its famous opening line: "'Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.'" It took a while for me to fall in love with it, but fall in love I did. I would actually give is 4.5 stars . . . only withholding that last half of a star because there is something in its tone (rather arch) which lessened the emotional intensity of it.

By the first chapter, the author has managed to discuss camels, 500 years of Anglican church history and fishing - all of which are integral to the novel's plot. It's difficult to say what the novel is, exactly, because it's part travelogue and part moral journey (which reminded me, although the tone is completely different, of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair). The premise of the plot is an expedition into Turkey and other countries of the Levant for the purpose of religious conversion of the Muslim 'natives' for Christianity. But really, one gets the feeling that the main characters are there mostly to have exotic larks. Aunt Dot - doughty adventurer, feminist and staunch Anglican - has joined forces with Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, the Turkish feminist Dr. Halide and the narrator Laurie, but the odd little group are only loosely united in their belief systems, and soon become unstuck. Much of the novel is about Laurie's solo journey, which (literally) winds along the Turkish coastline into Syria, Jordan and Israel and (figuratively) is a spiritual journey.

At first, the novel seems to be about a particular sort of English person (upper middle-class, well-educated in the classics, stricken by wanderlust) whose goal in life seems to be one of having adventures in any country other than England. The trio of Aunt Dot, Father Hugh and Laurie are all well-educated in the classical world, and they are there more to observe and admire; the conversion part seems to be secondary. (I was also reminded of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View.). There is also a running joke about their desire to get a book out of their adventures, and how the entire area is overrun by missionaries, writer and spies. It all takes place in a vague sort of post-war (II) period, but except for allusions to the Soviet Curtain - which plays a role in the storyline - it feels almost 19th century. Throughout, the tone is deceptively light. It's consistently humorous, but not with the sort of humour that makes you want to laugh.

One of the pecularities of the novel is that one is never entirely sure if Laurie - the narrator and protagonist - is male or female. At first, I though female, and then I definitely thought male. And then at the end of the novel I thought female again, but I wasn't positive. The author carefully avoids using any kind of pronouns, and then is also the matter of names: Laurie's lover is called Vere, and both names are completely gender-neutral. The novel is meant to be based in large part on the author's life - not only her family background, but also her ambilvalent relationship with her own religious faith, and the long affair she had with Gerald O'Donovan (a former Jesuit preast and married man). Biography would suggest that Laurie was female, but in fact the novel seems more plausible with a male narrator - partly because it seems unlikely for a young women to be travelling alone in that part of the world. Also, the character just seemed male to me in terms of behaviour and mannerisms. I cannot help but think that Macauley made this all deliberately vague, but I cannot recall any book I've ever read in which the sex of the protagonist wasn't clear and obvious.

This is definitely one of those novels that as soon as I finished I felt quite tempted to start again from the beginning. There are such beautiful descriptions of scenery and history that I wanted to set on my own expedition of the Levant, and I felt horribly ignorant about that part of the world and was frequently interrupting my own reading to look things up. But really, the heart of the novel is about faith and belief and what it means to be human. I felt quite moved by certain passages - for instance, when Laurie talks about how the desire to be morally good - and the surprising ending of the novel was shattering. Although the narrator's voice never becomes earnest or serious, there is actually a great deal of philosophical depth to Laurie's journey. I also found myself thinking quite a lot about the rise and fall of human civilisations and the ancient clash between the Muslim and Christian world - and then relating them to present day struggles. Although it doesn't 'read' as modern at all, it felt surprisingly relevant.
Profile Image for Al.
412 reviews25 followers
February 26, 2021
This was a fairly entertaining novel, written in a droll and always informative manner. The framework is a travel narrative, which was very enjoyable, and within that framework, the author used the narrative to comment on the state of the Church of England and the efforts to evangelize in a predominantly Muslim region, which also included contact with other Christian denominations. Beyond that, the narrator is struggling with her attraction to High Church Anglicanism specifically, and Christianity in general, as she travels with her eccentric aunt to Turkey, and around the Black Sea region.

The book is well written, with enough information and plot to drive the narrative forward. The characters are all well developed, and the dry humor works very well. I was also gratified that Christianity is also a character in the story, and one portrayed as an objective good, and that didn’t overwhelm the story. The ending was rather a surprise, and when I read about the author after I had finished, I can see where the book and ending is almost a mirror of the author’s life. This was an entertaining read and while I’m probably too picky about the fiction I read, I can think of many of my GR friends who would thoroughly enjoy this.
Profile Image for Mitch.
684 reviews17 followers
July 1, 2016
I wanted to read this book because it was a humorous fictionalized trip to Turkey (where I've been) on the part of the author, along with her eccentric aunt and a camel. What could go wrong?

Well, this: the book was overloaded with references to esoteric religious references (Anglican, High Church, Low Church, Roman Catholic, etc, etc, etc...) that were mainly meant to show how ridiculous they were. Unless you were an expert in these, the semi-humorous/semi-serious religious arguments went flat in short order. And they kept right on coming.

Some of this was clever, funny and enjoyable... and then~

The plot and the book both ended with a tragedy linked to the narrator's pettiness. It's actually pretty horrible and I am not sure why the author chose to do this.

I cannot think of any personal acquaintance I'd recommend this book to.
1,072 reviews104 followers
December 6, 2017
Have camel, will travel

Not having read or heard about THE TOWERS OF TREBIZOND before, I was confused when I began, as to whether this was a novel or a travel book. Actually, it's a novel masquerading as a travel book or would that be the other way round?........hmm. Clever idea in any case.
The female narrator goes off on a trip to Turkey with eccentric Aunt Dot and a BYO camel, a curmudgeonly retired Anglican clergyman, unfortunately for travel in Islamic lands named Chantry-Pigg, and a Turkish lady who has converted to the Church of England. An odd time is had by all. They meet various English and Turkish characters, visit ruins, and Aunt Dot and the clergyman investigate the possibility of converting the Turks to Anglicanism. Suddenly, the ever-cheerful Aunt Dot and the Rev disappear, probably into Soviet Armenia. The narrator takes over the camel and continues the trip alone for the rest of the book, hoping to meet her married lover somewhere on the Mediterranean, if the camel can get her there. On the way she often muses on the romance of ancient history, adultery, and Church of England doctrines. The sections on adultery are not long, but very perceptive. The part on moral philosophy, Church of England doctrine and various arcane disputes in the Church can be skipped by those with less than a sterling interest in such topics, but the questions raised in the narrator's mind contain eternal questions asked by those who search for belief and understanding.

The author writes very well and with the old-style, dry British humor. The descriptions of Turkey's Black Sea coast and some other parts of the Levant are fine. Though some of the portraits of local characters tend to border on caricature, the same can be said of some of the British characters too, so fair enough. A novel in which an ape can drive cars and do a multitude of other useful tasks is not one which must be taken literally ! In case a split-identity, novel-cum-travelogue intrigues you (with a bit of mystery and a love story thrown in),get hold of this book somehow. I won't say it is one of the 20th century's great books, but it's thoughtful, well-constructed, and sensitive.
Profile Image for Laurel Kane.
141 reviews37 followers
June 27, 2009
Great read. I was supposed to read this book for a literature class i took at UCLA last summer, but didn't quite get to it. Macaulay writes in that British we're-all-crazy-and-kooky-and-we-think-it's-normal-and don't-realize-it's-actually-hysterical kind of way. At some points I was laughing out loud (teaching the monkey how to drive Aunt Dot's car!). The characters' names alone were humorous(Father Chantry-Pigg). The end, however, is devastating, but made me like the book even more because I didn't realize that I actually cared for Laurie until tragedy struck.

It was also incredibly interesting to read about their exploits traveling around in early 20th century Turkey. Aunt Dot is convinced that the Muslim women just need to be shown how "backwards" their way of life is (via the Church of England). The women will then have no choice but to become enlightened and cast off the religion and traditions that have oppressed them for so long. This book was written almost 60 years ago and there are still many people in the Western world who think this way! I do appreciate that Laurie then later talks about how she feels its "rude" to go into another country and attempt to convert the natives away from their own traditions.

I definitely recommend this book, especially to those who have been reading more modern novels about women in the Middle East (Three cups of Tea, etc.).
Profile Image for Heidi'sbooks.
179 reviews12 followers
December 17, 2021
What the heck is up with the ending????

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. A humorous trip through Turkey on a camel with interesting characters along the way. I would love to travel to Turkey at some point in the future. The book spends a lot of time talking about High Church and low Church Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Billy Grahamites along with the Byzantine Church. Aunt Dot and Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg go on the trip to spread the word of Christianity, and Aunt Dot wants to emancipate women in the Muslim country. However, the book has very little of spreading the word and a lot of criticizing the church. After all, a priest with the last name of Pigg wouldn't get very far spreading the Word in a Muslim country.

In the end the book is an anthology on religion. Indeed the Towers of Trebizond and the ruins of the Byzantine Church are a picture of the church in general.

"The Church is like a great empire on its way out, that holds its subjects by poetic force, its fantastic beauty heightened by insecurity; one sees it at times like a Desiderio fantasy of pinnacles and towers, luminous with unearthly light, rocking on their foundations as if about to crash ruining in decadence and disaster into the dark sea that steals up, already lapping and whispering at the marble quays. Yet though for ever reeling, the towers do not fall: they seem held in some strong enchantment, some luminous spell, fixed for ever in the imagination, the gleaming, infrangible, so improbable as to be all but impossible, walled kingdom of the infrangible God. "

The humor in the book is decidedly British. The writing is beautiful and the vocabulary incredible. There is a lot of name dropping of historical figures. I don't think this book would appeal to most modern readers. Especially with that ending.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
665 reviews589 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
March 28, 2018
The first chapter or so, in which the family background of Aunt Dot is sent up so hilariously, was an absolute and utter delight. As soon as the group of eccentric Brits begin their tour of Turkey, however, I was put off by the headache-inducing density of the cultural and historical references, and most of all by the superior, smug—indeed, racist—tone of the humor. British satire works best when it pokes at British folks and culture; it quickly becomes odious when outwardly directed.
944 reviews53 followers
July 31, 2022
Sometimes I read a novel and think I remember it. But on rereading, I find that my memory has constructed a mostly false story. This is the case with this novel, one I recall it as being an eccentrically exotic travelogue of a novel that concentrated on the splendors of Trebizond, a fabled city on the southern coast of the Black Sea.

That’s only the bare scaffolding of a story that alternates between fantasy and reality and makes a trenchant comment on the uncertainties of the modern world. Three British travelers set out to explore eastern Turkey, including Trebizond which at one time was a crossroads of the eastern Roman Empire, and later, an important center of the Ottoman Empire. One is a resolute Aunt Dot, in her sixties, who is undertaking the journey as an Anglican missionary to see if there are possible converts. She is equally determined to liberate Muslim women from what she considers their enslaved condition. The second is an older Anglican priest, Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, referred to by the third member of the group, as an “ancient bigot” He ‘s chiefly interested in finding old relics and discussing religion with heathens he might meet.

The third member, the narrator, Laura, does some sketching for a book that Aunt Dot is be writing, but comes along mostly for the adventure. She is often an ironic commentator as her opinion as to the merits of converting Muslims reveals, “I supposed they would have to exchange the Koran for the Gospels, but . . . not being intellectual, they wouldn’t much notice.”

Aunt Dot, in a bizarre beginning of the novel , which as its humorous aspects, is dismounting from a camel on her return from mass. She says she wants to see “the Caucasus, Circassian slaves, Tartars, wild mares, koumiss, churches, clergy men, and women.” She is fearless, ready for anything.

At this point, the novel has all the symptoms of a comedy. A reader suspects that his odd threesome will no doubt reach eastern Turkey and discover that their expectations are illusions, and that pretty much is what happens. Trebizond is an ordinary seaport, but if when they look hard they can find some overgrown ruins that hint at the city’s past glories, but none of the inhabitants are interested, nor are any Muslims of either sex the slightlest bit interested in Aunt Dot’s plans to liberate downtrodden Islamic women.

From here, the novel pivots in a different direction completely. Aunt Dot and Father Pigg simply disappear. It is assumed that they either strayed, or intentionally crossed into Russia, and as this was during the Cold War (the McLean-Burgess spy affair of the late 40’s is mentioned,) anything might have happened to them, from torture and exile in Siberian salt mines, to being welcomed as spies, which the narrator is certain they’re not.

The remainder of he novel is concerned with the narrator’s slow trek back to England, where she undergoes a spiritual crisis as well as a crushing romantic disappointment. Her disillusionment with religion is overwhelming, as well as life in general, both similar to the Trebizond experience. A friend says to her, “The Church used once to b e an opiate to you, like that of Trebizond’s enchanter’s potion, a kind of euphoric drug.”

That’s what the “shimmering towers” of Trebizond once represented - an ideal, a goal, a chimeric dream that disappears. But far from being particularly somber, as these comments might suggest, the novel is largely entertaining and succeeds in combining humor and seriousness.
Profile Image for Abigail Bok.
Author 4 books191 followers
September 26, 2019
In my mental library There is a small section of books I love until the ending spoils them. This book more or less falls into that category, though in this case its virtues outweigh my disappointment.

The Towers of Trebizond is a very hard work to define. It is a first-person narrative that appears to be a travel memoir but is theoretically a work of fiction, though one with strong autobiographical elements. It has also been theorized that it is a roman a clef--since it was published in 1956 in Britain, I am not familiar enough with British public figures of that era to know. A few real-life British figures do get mentioned under their own names (notably a small number of former British subjects convicted of spying for Russia), which complicates the roman a clef label.

The narrator is the niece of an eccentric British lady of advanced years, Aunt Dot, who is a dauntless traveler in obscure parts of the globe. At the center of the tale is a trip Aunt Dot wants to take to eastern Turkey (its goal being Trebizond, modern Trabzon); she obtains funding for the trip by turning it into an exploratory trip for an Anglican missionary organization to determine whether the region is fertile ground for a mission to convert the locals to the Church of England. To this end, the narrator and her aunt pick up a retired clergyman, Father Chantry-Pigg, and a modern Turkish woman, Dr. Halide, who converted to Anglicanism during her education in England, to join the expedition.

The narration has a headlong style that is riotously funny and clever: the narrator is a seeming ingenue who slips devastating little jabs into her text that aren't fully felt by the reader till after the fact. That technique lends the book a satirical tone that gets sharper as it goes along, focused on subjects such as Anglocentrism, the behavior of the British upper classes, religious dogma, and, most pointedly, spying. (It is telling that the author served in Intelligence during World War II: I imagine her colleagues and bosses would be smarting if they read this book.)

At a certain point Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg abandon the group under ambiguous and potentially worrisome circumstances. The narrator is on her own, and the focus turns more inward. The story is still a travelogue, but it becomes an inner as well as an outer journey, with some elements that are more serious than funny. The humor is still there, but it is set in a darker landscape, so to speak. The narrator is struggling with her own faith, as well as her own conduct. And now I must move into spoiler territory.

The reading of this book offers enough rich pleasure to make it well worth reading, even if I felt the author did herself a disservice with the turn she took at the end.

Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
April 27, 2009
This is no Under the Tuscan Sun or Riding the Iron Rooster. It is not a travel narrative with breathless or sardonic descriptions of a land and its people. It is, instead, a personal meditation on religion and love loosely based on a period of time that Rose Macaulay spent in Turkey.

She was, at that time, having an affair with a married man, a situation which clashed fiercely with her Anglican beliefs. Her love and guilt are recounted with typical English understatement and detachment. For example, in one episode recounted in the book, she takes on a week-long journey on camel-back to meet up with her lover on the coast of Turkey. She comes down with a fever during the journey but soldiers on regardless. This is recounted with a dry and wry stoicism:

Very soon I began feeling dizzy and strange, and when I came to I was still on the camel but in a coma, and this was the Turkey sickness, or possibly it was the camel sickness, and one made the other worse...I wished I had kept a few of aunt Dot's bottles and pills in case any of them were good for the Turkey sickness, but the only bottle I had was the green potion I had got from the Greek sorcerer in Trebizond.

Her account of this troubled period in her life is made all the more moving because of her steadfast refusal to pity herself. Readers looking for insights into Turkey, however, should look elsewhere.
Profile Image for Ali.
1,242 reviews337 followers
February 16, 2019
So many people have professed their love for The Towers of Trebizond that I couldn’t help but choose it over several other 1956 books, despite having already read three other Rose Macaulay novels this year. Known by many people simply for its fabulous opening line:

“Take my camel, dear,’ said my aunt Dot, climbing down from that animal on her return from high Mass.”

Well, if that isn’t enough to make you smile and to wish to carry on reading, I don’t what is. Macaulay is frequently wry as she sets about observing people in their various, sometimes ludicrous pursuits.

“Everyone had had the idea of starting for home early, so as to miss the crawl, but, since everyone had had the idea, no one missed the crawl.”

The novel follows the progress of a group of characters as they embark upon a journey from Istanbul to Trebizond. They are, Laurie – our narrator, her Aunt Dot (Dorothea Ffoulkes Corbett) and Dorothea’s friend, high Anglican priest Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg. Oh, and then there’s the camel. They are befriended by a Turkish woman doctor; Dr Halide, an ardent feminist with an interest in Anglicanism. Aunt Dot is set on converting and liberating the Turkish women she meets with Christianity and introduce them to the bathing hat.

full review: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2018/...
Profile Image for Elizabeth K..
804 reviews38 followers
August 1, 2009
I should probably warn people that I'm on a weird kick of 1950s English popular fiction by women. And this was enormously popular when it came out. A young woman accompanies her aunt and a priest on a tour of Turkey. There are a lot of jokes about Anglicanism, many more than I thought were possible, actually. This was intriguing on several levels -- it's fairly interesting right there on the surface, and also a great look at the time when it was written, and fun to compare and contrast to what passes for popular literature today. It's also one of those books that ends up being about something quite different than you suspect: it would appear to be a book about touring around Turkey on a camel, and it turns out to really be about personal moral responsibilities and obligations.

Grade: A-
Recommended: It's a strangely good book, but it has that unsettling quality that sometimes happens when a book isn't timeless ... it's very much of its time and reading it involves significant emotional discordance.

Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 22 books2,017 followers
April 14, 2020
Rose Macaulay was recommended to me as a great minor author by Mr. Thomas Banks of The Literary Life Podcast. Though fiction this book could also be called a travel logue and a quite enjoyable one at that. It is also deeply satirical and one of those books which would grow funnier with understanding.
A bit Babylon Bee when it comes to the CofE but lovingly so. At times, it is positively Wodehousian although it ends with more pathos.
#202for20 Satire or minor author
Profile Image for T.D. Whittle.
Author 3 books190 followers
May 12, 2023
"'Take my camel, dear', said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass'." This wins as my favourite first line of any book I've read (so far, at least). The Towers of Trebizond was not what I expected -- though, now I think of it, I am not quite sure what it was I expected. Let me think ... Well, for one thing, when I bought it, I thought it was nonfiction, which it is not; however, those who knew her say that much of Rose Macaulay's own life is written into it, and that seems true. For another, the little I knew of the main character made me think that Aunt Dot would be like an Anglican high-church version of Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, (a book and film I love). In fact, that was a superficial and not-too-accurate impression. Both aunties are bold, adventurous, over-the-top, and hilarious, and both are opportunists in their own ways. However, unlike Mame, Aunt Dot is at heart a high-minded and committed person with serious intentions in the world. And while Trebizond is a comedy, like Mame, it is consistently philosophical and reflective, without being sentimental.

Another expectation I had was that I had thought the story belonged to Aunt Dot, but it is her niece, Laurie, whose tale this is, and we see and hear all through her. So, I had expected a very funny autobiography of a slightly mad middle-aged English woman romping across Turkey on a camel and getting into all manner of mischief (this happens, to be sure), while her niece tags along in the sidekick role; but what I got, in the end, was much stiller and deeper than that. The quieter voice and more introverted experiences of Laurie are a kind of anchor to Dot's hi-jinx, and yet, the relationship between the two is more complicated than that simple description can capture. Aunt Dot has a certainty and a solidity about herself and her place in the world that young Laurie admires, but cannot achieve and which she believes may forever elude her. The heart of the book is Laurie's narrative, played against the backdrop of a grand and romantic vision of the Turkish coast as she gallops along it, alone with Dot's camel. (I won't spoil the plot by telling you how and why the two become separated because it's the best part of the tale.)

The book's topic, tone, and humour remind me of Barbara Pym's writing (which is high praise). In fact, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Barbara Pym. Trebizond is also sad, in that way that Pym can be sometimes too. I must have been looking the other way as the plot went trotting past because I failed to notice its heading towards a cliff until it had gone airborne. Still, everyone copes in the end, as one does when one is of a certain era and a certain class and a certain country. (I am still recovering myself.)

A side effect of having finished Macaulay's book is that I find myself eager to travel around Turkey and Armenia, circa 1956, on a dashing and deranged camel. This is why I read, of course.
Profile Image for Hirondelle.
906 reviews184 followers
October 9, 2010
I wish I could have divided this book into two parts - the parts with Aunt Dot ( and Father Pigg) and the parts without them. The parts with Aunt Dot I adore and would be, are, all time favorites. The rest of the novel, I am very sorry Laurie, but I do not believe in you. Not that I believe necessarily in Aunt Dot, but it is much easier to just go along and enjoy her eccentricity.

Back to Laurie and my problems with him/her, one thing this book is utterly remarkable about is that how hidden the narrator´s gender is. On my book blurb Laurie is considered a she, wikipedia and most of the internet seems to think Laurie is a she. I have just finished reading the novel and I am far from sure. There are references to adultery being the sin which removes Laurie from the church (rather than homossexuality) and there are mentions on a dreamy what-if passage to what if Laurie and Vere were married and had children. So those are for Laurie being a female.

On the other side, none of this is totally conclusive and I find Laurie rather unbelievable as a young woman trekking alone and feverishly through Turkey in a camel, in the early 1950s. There is never any consciousness of any worry of coming out "provocative" (like drying in the sun after bathing, in the presence of a nice turkish boy), or worry about rape or pregnancy (and Laurie does spend nights with Vere), and all chauvinistic reactions seem to be to Aunt Dot, and when she is there. Laurie as a character feels more believable if he is a man, and the "sin" which he can not came to terms with his love for another man, a married one at that. Laurie and Vere are more believable and understandable and even likeable to me as a gay couple which could not be together too openly, than as some "other woman" story. Because as a woman, Vere´s appeal is not quite convincing, as Laurie admits he is selfish, his wife never with him, his marriage no impediment to him spending lots of holiday time with Laurie. If the random clues to Laurie being female being meant to misdirect unsympathetic general audience of the time it would make sense to me, since emotionally and intellectually, it all makes more sense if Laurie is male. It also makes it more poignant though that might be a matter of taste.

I had some trouble with Laurie´s method of narrating dialog, it is hilarious often, but it is tiresome when overdone, and sometimes it is overdone. I found some anedoctes of Laurie, like trying to tame the ape, just more Aunt Dot than a real character whose motivations and actions I could understand. All the understatement and eccentricity, the lack of candour about *something*, make for a distance between me and Laurie which make just not *get* his/her feelings and crisis of faith.

All that being said, I did love the book. As I mentioned on a comment it reminded of mellow Waugh ( if one can imagine Waugh ever being mellow), but all kinds of the books Evelyn Waugh wrote, all together in one: the satyre and eccentric characters, the travel writing, and the agonizing over religion in sin. Just a lot more mellow!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,054 reviews673 followers
December 11, 2018
Dame Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond is a highly eccentric novel set mostly in Turkey and the Holy Land. It tells of a trip via camel and jeep through Northeast Turkey. Midway through the journey, Aunt Dot (Dorothy ffoulkes-Corbett) and the Rev. Hugh Chantry-Pigg cross the Russian border with the intention of visiting Armenian churches and drinking mare's milk on the steppes of Tartary. They are taken in hand by the Soviet authorities and assumed to be spies.

The attention turns to Laurie, Aunt Dot's niece, who must travel by herself on Dot's racing camel west to rendezvous with her lover, Vere, at Alexandretta. At times, this book is as much a travelogue as a work of fiction. Throughout, it sparkles with wit, including Laurie's meditation on her lax Anglican faith:
Then I thought, the Church is like a great empire on its way out, that holds its subjects by poetic force, its fantastic beauty heightened by insecurity; one sees it at times like a Desiderio fantasy of pinnacles and towers, luminous with unearthly light, rocking on their foundations as if about to crash ruining in decadence and disaster into the dark sea that steals up, already lapping and whispering at the marble quays. Yet, though for ever reeling, the towers do not fall: they seem held in some strong enchantment, some luminous spell, fixed for ever in the imagination, the gleaming, infrangible, so improbable as to be all but impossible, walled kingdom of the infrangible God.
At the end, a strange accident occurs which sets the ending off on an altogether different track than the rest of the novel -- one that is surprisingly somber.

Still, for over 95% of its length, The Towers of Trebizond is a delightful book.
3 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2011
This is a both deliciously hilarious and deeply serious travel story, by an author who is very knowledgeable about history, geography, and especially Anglicanism. Two English ladies and an Anglican priest travel through Turkey together, along with a camel. The priest, Father Chantry-Pigg, has in mind to convert Muslims and plant churches; Aunt Dot is focused on studying the plight of Muslim women, hoping that teaching them about the freedom that Christian women have, will cause them to want to become Anglicans. Laurie, an artist who is Aunt Dot's niece and the narrator of the story, is traveling mainly so that she and her aunt can collaborate on a book about Turkey. Along their way they keep running into the Billy Graham Crusaders and other brands of Christians, which leads to a lot of discussion about the competition between them, especially between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. The main serious strand of the story is about Laurie's long-time estrangement from the Church, due to her ten-year involvement in an adulterous affair. She meets her lover on their trip, and exposes to the reader many of her profound thoughts on her pains and struggles with faith. Profound food for thought about the mysteries of being a Christian, intertwine with zany scenes such as Laurie trying to teach an ape to drive, and even worship in church! This is a thoughtful, wild-and-crazy, thoroughly enjoyable book! I'll probably read the whole thing again.
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