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The Towers of Trebizond (1956)

by Rose Macaulay

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0763212,966 (3.82)167
"'Take my camel, dear, ' said my aunt Dot." So begins Macaulay's greatest novel. Traveling overland from Istanbul to legendary Trebizond, the narrator and her companions have a series of hilarious encounters. The dominant note of this novel is humorous, but the import is often tragic.
  1. 10
    Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene (christiguc)
  2. 10
    Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A work of humor dressed up like travel literature and full of dry wit and set pieces.
  3. 00
    English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: In memory of Dot
  4. 00
    The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Tongue-in-cheek perspectives on the Near East in the form of travelogue.

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» See also 167 mentions

English (30)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
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.

This novel is a mix of things, part novel, part autobiographical travelogue and an exploration of religion. While Father Chantry-Pigg carries sacred relics around with him, Laurie muses on the complications of her love life. Along the way the trio meet British travel writers and witness the progress of Billy Graham on tour with the BBC. Macaulay does employ some typical British colonial stereotypes – though these things are put into the mouths of her characters and are fairly mild. Her characters are upper class English idiots – harmless enough and of a type – and I think she was poking gentle fun at them. Macaulay is a good observer of the Englishman/woman abroad – and here she is superb at portraying the noise and clamour of a Turkish harbour.

“The boats were filled mostly with steerage passengers who lived in Trebizond or were visiting relations there, and the women carried great bundles and sacks full of things, but the men carried suit-cases with sharp, square corners, which helped them very much in the struggle to get on and stay on the boats, for this was very violent and intense. More than one woman got shoved overboard into the sea during the struggle, and had to be dragged out by husbands and acquaintances, but one sank too deep and had to be left, for the boat-hooks could not reach her; all we saw were the apples out of her basket bobbing on the waves. I thought that women would not stand much chance in a shipwreck, and in the struggle for the boats many might fall in the sea and be forgotten, but the children would be saved all right, for Turks love their children, even the girls.”

Suddenly, Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg disappear over the border into Russia – a task so impossible during these cold war days, that it is assumed they must have had help of a fairly sinister nature, and are declared spies, by almost everyone. A little anxious, though not unduly concerned Laurie is left alone in charge of the camel – on which she continues to travel.

She meets up briefly with her lover, enters into a wrangle over a manuscript with one of the British travel writers; David who has a habit of popping up every now and then, but at least can be relied on to buy dinner. She experiences a hallucinatory draught that she is given in exchange for food, sells camel rides along the road, encounters difficulty getting into Israel and then later meets her estranged mother in Jerusalem. It’s all wonderfully bonkers.

After all that travelling, eventually Laurie heads back to England, with an ape that she has picked up (as you do). Here, as settles back into normal English life, she is forever wrestling her Christian faith with her adulterous relationship with a married man. The camel and the ape suitably ensconced at the zoo but Laurie wonders whether or not she will ever see Aunt Dot and her priest ever again.

Overall, a really good read – my favourite Macaulay is still The World my Wilderness, but I loved the sense of place in this, the bizarre quirkiness of Macaulay’s story and her characters – make for a memorable novel. There is also a fabulously unexpected bit of drama at the end of the novel – which I won’t spoil for you – I do enjoy being taken by surprise. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Feb 16, 2019 |
The best bits are fantastic, the rest tends to drag. Can't say I found any of the religious parts anything but tedious. ( )
  encephalical | Feb 5, 2019 |
Most of this book takes the form of a travelogue in which a trio of upper-class British twits (for various degrees of twittishness) travels around mid-20thC Turkey to gauge the feasibility of converting the local women to High Church Anglicanism. There’s the no-nonsense, no-consideration Aunt, the self-congratulatory Priest, and the narrator, who thinks of herself as a characterless hanger-on, but who over the course of the book develops her snarkiness into some degree of coherence and thoughtfulness. Towards the end a little bit of sudden seriousness encroaches, but it isn’t too jarring.

Large parts of this book felt like they had almost been written to cater specifically to my tastes: they’re whimsical, colourful, indulge in the joys of largely obstacle-free travelling, and the characters are archaeology-obsessed know-it-alls who are over-educated in Classical European History and who enjoy their little discussions about random points of Christian theology. It’s all very cute and amiable, and the novelistic parts, lightweight as they are, do not interrupt the travelogue too much.

While the troupe of Brits are presented as too smug even to think of themselves as foreigners when travelling through another country, their twittishness is presented with a dollop of self-irony, and paired with a largely sympathetic portrayal of the people behind the class, a mixture that makes the whole thing much more palatable than it would otherwise have been.

All in all, an easily digestible, whimsical period piece: a pleasant and smooth read through a book that has no real pretensions to profundity. If my review has whetted your appetite, the book is probably for you; if not, it likely won’t be. ( )
2 vote Petroglyph | Nov 1, 2017 |
Made it 25% of the way through and just couldn't get into it. Maybe it's a hidden classic but it just seemed like a bit of a snooze fest to mr.- abbey the grouch ( )
  Abbey_Harlow | Oct 5, 2017 |
In the early 1950s, Laurie accompanies her Aunt Dot and a clergyman, Father Hugh Chantrey-Pigg, together with Aunt Dot's camel, to Turkey to assess whether a mission to convert Turkish women to High Church Anglicanism is likely to be successful.

In places quite as humourously batty as the premise sounds but as time goes by a more serious reflection on inter- and intra-religious clashes, religious yearnings, and finally religious despair emerges. The travel writing and descriptions of Turkey and the Holy Land are also well worth reading. ( )
1 vote Robertgreaves | Nov 27, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rose Macaulayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ledwidge, NatachaIllustratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ledwidge, NatachaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, JanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trollope, JoannaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Susan Lister
Susan Lister
First words
Take my camel, dear,' said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.
At times the thoughts of these clergymen, angling away in their beautiful and tranquil surroundings, would ramble over speculative theological ground, and encounter, like a dragon in the path, some heresy or doubt. This dragon they would sometimes step over without injury, saved perhaps at the moment of encountering it by a gentle tug at the line: at other times they would grapple with it, perhaps defeat and slay it, or perhaps suffer defeat themselves.
I too follow professions, but at some distance behind, and seldom catch up with them.
But aunt Dot said if one started not condoning governments, one would have to give up travel altogether, and even remaining in Britain would be pretty difficult.
Aunt Dot said she must get down her Turkey book quickly, or she would be forestalled by all these tiresome people. Writers all seemed to get the same idea at the same time. One year they would all be rushing for Spain, next year to some island off Italy, then it would be the Greek islands, then Dalmatia, then Cyprus and the Levant, and now people were all for Turkey.
Father Chantry-Pigg always spoke as if he had just parted from the Byzantines, and was apt to sigh when he mentioned them, though, as aunt Dot pointed out, he had missed them by five centuries.
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