Saturday, April 28, 2012

Temporary Kings: Book 11 of A Dance to the Music of Time (by Anthony Powell)

This is the penultimate volume of the twelve-novel series Dance to the Music of Time. Ian told me that my reviews weren't convincing him he should read it. Hmm. What if I told you that this volume includes some straight-up necrophilia? And a cushion made out of pubic hair? How many old-timey classics do you know of where stuff like this happens?

I still don't know if anyone "should" read it, but I know that this volume is far from boring. Tons of intrigue, a great villain and villainess (the Widmerpools still, of course), lots of salaciousness, and this sense of scope that comes from having already read eleven volumes in the series. For instance, you can really see here how the roles of women have changed between 1912-ish and 1958-ish (which is I think approximately where we're at). In this volume Nick goes to a conference and hangs out with Dr. Brightman, a female academic, and a publisher and a novelist who are also both women. This series really illuminates, I think, how quickly the roles of women changed after WWII.

(Oh, and this is just for Ian: One of the characters is a descendant of Button Gwinnett!)

Here are a pair of quotes presented just for contrast. 

"Musings about the past shifted to...that eternal question of what constitutes experience. A close examination of what happened in any given period in itself provokes an unnatural element, like looking at a large oil painting under a magnifying class, the overall effect lost."

"'One rather odd thing about Glober, he insisted on taking a cutting from my bush--said he always did that after having anyone for the first time. He produced a pair of nail-scissors from a small red leather case. He told me he carried them round with him in case the need arose.'
     'We all of us have our whims.'"

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Books do Furnish a Room: Book Ten of A Dance to the Music of Time (by Anthony Powell)

We're back to the post-war period with plenty of good interpersonal drama, especially between Widmerpool and his wife. (Even if it is, as usual, stretching credulity for our narrator Nick to just happen to be around for some of these events.) I think anything I write here about these books is clearly for an audience of one--not like anybody's going to suddenly pick up Volume 10. I think it was worth slogging through 8 and 9 though to get to this one, personally.

One weird thing: in the last volume, the narrator's wife had a son. Not only do we barely hear anything at all about his wife, we've just spent two books without having the son appear "on screen" at all, and not even learning what his name is! Then 3/4 of the way through this book Nick's all "oh and my wife was about to have another baby." It's really externally focused--I think because Powell was basing it so much on his own life, and he wanted to write about the characters he knew and who surrounded him, rather than the character of himself. It's this weird curtain of privacy... strange. But anyway, a good volume!

There's also a terrific discussion of literature courtesy of the character X Trapnel:

"Do you call Hemingway's impotent good guy naturalistic? Think what Dostoevsky would have made of him... Hemingway would never allow a hero of his to be made a fool of. To that extent he's not naturalistic. Most forms of naturalistic happening are expressed in grotesque irrational trivialities, not tight-lipped heroisms."

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