The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope is a very enjoyable book. It is shorter than most Trollopes – which is wise, as the story is slightly stretched as it is, even though the ending is very abrupt.
The story concerns Britannula, a colony which has seceded from Britain and, being full of young, self-important men, proceeds to pass a law that everyone over the – nicely distant – age of 67 shall be ‘deposited’ within a pleasant college-cum-slaughterhouse, there to mull over their approaching departure (i.e. murder), just before their 68th birthday. This will ensure that these unproductive members of society don’t take up resources that the young and vital could be gulping down and generally prevent them from being a burden on themselves and (more importantly) others. As there are a few, less young, men able to put across some slight objections, the actual enforcing of the law is postponed for thirty years or so.
The story takes place from the point of view of President Neverbend (Trollope is rarely subtle with names) and we are informed almost immediately that rotten old England has crushed this independent spirit of homicide. We then follow the tale of how this comes to be, the doubts and justifications of President Neverbend with regard to killing a close friend with actual knives, and how love and cricket save the day.
I liked the book because, like most Trollope books, I found this immensely readable, with an engaging style, though repetitious at times. Second, I liked the bravery of trying something new (I suspect there was a cry of ‘more vicars’ from the populace). There were also some nice touches of humour and I enjoyed the character of Neverbend, who, though believed by England to be a dangerously charismatic leader, comes across as a rather stuffy, self-deluded and blustering chap, whose great idea was accepted by the Britannulists largely on his energy and obsessive perseverance, rather than any actual belief in his doctrine, which appears to have been heard as ‘blah, blah, blah, economic necessity, blah, blah, blah, cure for senility, colostomy bags’.
I also enjoyed the little glimpses of the future (the novel is set in the 1980’s) such as water-telegrams, the hair-telephone and the prominence of the tricycle (although women’s rights and the ascendance of the aristocracy have, unfortunately, not noticeably budged).
All in all, though far from Trollope’s best (try the Barchester Chronicles, the Palliser novels and The Way We Live Now) this is definitely worth a read. I only hope that nobody currently panicking about the pension crisis, the NHS and population concerns, gives this a go and decides that Neverbend’s time has come.