Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hearing Secret Harmonies: Book Twelve of A Dance to the Music of Time (by Anthony Powell)

I did it! I reached the end of the 3000-or-so-pages Dance to the Music of Time series. And I have to say I will miss always having the latest volume in the Kindle app on my phone.  (After all, I've been reading the series since last August.)

My feelings are pretty much in line with those of Christopher Culver, the one guy on Amazon who has read and reviewed the whole series. I don't know if I would call this the weakest book in the series--it does at least have pagan sex orgies to liven it up--and I definitely don't think the homosexuality is a problem, or that it's overdone. (The book seems to take place in the 70s, so it's certainly not out of place culturally.) But I do think that introducing a cult and the character of Scorpio is far from the most interesting direction Powell could have gone. I want to read more about why he made that choice, as opposed to keeping the final novel more on the level of more quiet interpersonal drama.

(Oh, speaking of which, we learn absolutely nothing about the narrator's kids, even though by now they are adults. The whole family goes to a big wedding at the end, and the kids don't show up, even though some of their cousins play major roles in the plot. We don't learn their names, what they do, how many of them there are, anything.)

Anyway, sorry, just kind of getting my initial thoughts out here in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. What I was saying was, if I had to pick a "weakest volume" it would probably be book nine, which bored me. This book definitely didn't bore me. (See above re: pagan sex orgies.) I think Powell was trying to offer his views of the 60s counterculture. The narrator tolerates a lot (he doesn't even recoil from the NECROPHILIAC who marries HIS NIECE in this book) but he doesn't quite understand it, it seems like. This volume is a convincing portrait of an aging man, watching people drop in and out of his life, watching the next generation take his place.

I guess my biggest frustration is that the fate of Widmerpool, the series's antagonist, is pretty cartoonish and not quite convincing.  But overall, I really did enjoy reading this entire series. There is some lovely writing, there are compelling characters, interesting ideas, an epic flavor to the whole thing. I don't know if I would say this is a must-read--read War and Peace first for the epic-ness, and read Brideshead Revisited first to get a feeling for this milieu--but I'm definitely happy I had the experience.

Here are two quotes--one fun one about the role of the novelist, and one thematic one. Thanks for reading all my ramblings about this series!

"You mention Molly Bloom. She offers an example of what I am saying. Obviously her sexual musings—and her husband's—derive from the author, to the extent that he invented them. Such descriptions would have been a thousand times less convincing, if attributed to Stephen Dedalus—let alone to Joyce himself. Their strength lies in existence within the imaginary personalities of the Blooms. That such traits are much diminished, when given to a hero, is even to some extent exemplified in Ulysses. It may be acceptable to read of Bloom tossing off.  A blow by blow account of the author doing so is hardly conceivable as interesting."

"In any case it was impossible to disregard the fact that, while a dismantling process steadily curtails members of the cast, items of the scenery, airs played by the orchestra, in the performance that has included one’s own walk-on part for more than a few decades, simultaneous derequisitionings are also to be observed. Mummers return, who might have been supposed to have made their final exit, even if – like Dr Trelawney and Mrs Erdleigh – somewhat in the rôle of Hamlet’s father. The touching up of time-expired sets, reshaping of derelict props, updating of old refrains, are none of them uncommon."

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