Friday, February 24, 2012

The Valley of the Bones: Book Five of A Dance to the Music of Time (by Anthony Powell)

So in this book, Nick goes off to war, sort of. He is training with a regiment in Northern Ireland. The book continues to be unconcerned with anyone who isn't of high military rank (which I mentioned last time, when Nick was like "oh hell no I'm not joining the lowly infantry") and Nick's fellow officers are the only characters that really get fleshed out at all. This whole series is really an exploration of a very specific social class--the upper one.

It's yet another new cast of characters (though you just know Widmerpool is bound to show up at some point) who all, weirdly, have w-themed names. (I don't know why I noticed this, but there's Gwylt, Rowland Gwatkin, and Idwal Kedward.) The single guy who writes the reviews on Amazon liked this installment a lot because it is a satirical take on military life. As far as that goes, it's no Catch-22, and I preferred the brief time when Nick goes on leave and we see his in-laws the Tollands, etc.

I think this is also partly because the war is going on, but there's no actual fighting yet. I want to get to the death and destruction and fighting! I guess this installment felt like the first one that was really kind of killing time, though I do see the point--the calm before the storm and all that. So I enjoyed it, but I'm looking forward to the next installment.

There are a bunch of really awesome quotes from this one though. I usually just pick one of my highlights (love the highlighting feature on my Kindle app) but here are a bunch of them, I'm just going to include them all:, since I think it gives a really good overview of Powell's style:

"All love affairs are different cases, yet, at the same time, each is the same case. Moreland used to say love was like sea-sickness. For a time everything round you heaved about and you felt you were going to die — then you staggered down the gangway to dry land, and a minute or two later could hardly remember what you had suffered, why you had been feeling so ghastly."

"When people really hate one another, the tension within them can sometimes make itself felt throughout a room, like atmospheric waves, first hot, then cold, wafted backwards and forwards, as if in an invisible process of air conditioning, creating a pervasive physical disturbance. Buster Foxe and Dicky Umfraville, between them, brought about that state."

"I was impressed for the ten thousandth time by the fact that literature illuminates life only for those to whom books are a necessity. Books are unconvertible assets, to be passed on only to those who possess them already."

"Matilda, for instance, would take the line that no woman was worth a moment's consideration unless she were capable of making a man neglect his duty. Barnby, on the other hand, would say no duty was worth a moment's consideration if it forced you to neglect women. These things depend so much on the subjective approach."

"The London streets, empty of traffic, looked incredibly bright and sophisticated, the tarts in Piccadilly dazzling nymphs. This was before the blitz. I knew how I knew how Persephone must have felt on the first day of her annual release from the underworld."

"As in musical chairs, the piano stops suddenly, someone is left without a seat, petrified for all time in their attitude of that particular moment. The balance-sheet is struck there and then, a matter of luck whether its calculations have much bearing, one way or the other, on the commerce conducted. The potential biographies of those who die young possess the mystic dignity of a headless statue, the poetry of enigmatic passages in an unfinished or mutilated manuscript, unburdened with contrived or banal ending."

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