Monday, January 30, 2012

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant: Book Five of A Dance to the Music of Time (by Anthony Powell)

Love the title of this one. (They do indeed go to the eponymous restaurant at the beginning of the novel and have a discussion about professional seducers that was really rather funny.)

Continuing to work my way through this series. I really enjoyed this installment. The backdrop is the Spanish Civil War as well as rumblings heading towards World War II, but the focus is still on high society. The main character has married into a large family of ten children, and we get to know a little bit more about them. (The eldest son is an eccentric named Erridge, and he apparently was based in part on George Orwell.)

It's an interesting mix of explicit and implied--there's a discussion about the terms "abortion" and "miscarriage" (characters in this series have had both) and there are a lot of gay and lesbian characters, some of whom are shown living together. There's even a guy who is totally this one lady's gay BFF--he even does her interior decorating! But the main character's marriage and the character of his wife remain misty because the narrator says almost nothing about them. There are still seven volumes to go, so perhaps we'll find out more!

This volume jumps back in time a little to introduce a new character named Moreland and a bunch of his compatriots(this series has a ton of characters, y'all) but it's worth it just for the setpiece of this big party after the debut of one of Moreland's symphonies, a tragicomedy where the alcoholic Charles Stringham shows up and where Lord Huntercombe spends the evening breaking into cabinets to examine the hostess's fine china. But there's also this air of foreshadowy gloom hanging over everything--it's no accident that one character commits suicide by "gassing himself," and the novel ends with a metaphor about a "Ghost Railway" ride hurtling towards an unknown, dark destination.

"The notable thing about professional seducers," said Maclintick... "is the rot they talk when they are doing their seducing. There is not a single cliche they leave unsaid."

"Although by definition the most egotistical of men," said Moreland, "they naturally have to develop a certain anonymity of style to make themselves acceptable to all women. It is the case of the lowest common factor - or is it the highest common denominator? If you hope to rise to the top class in seducing, you must appeal to the majority. As the majority are not very intelligent, you must conceal your own intelligence - if you have the misfortune to possess such a thing - in order not to frighten the girls off."

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