Anthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.
These first three novels in the sequence follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles which stand between them and the ‘Acceptance World’.
This first omnibus contains the books A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World; and is a thoroughly captivating start to a series that promises to yield so much in the way of pleasurable reading.
Straight away it grabbed me, with its meditations on life which, those of which only become evident as one reminisces of times past. This is where the reader’s journey begins, with the narrator Nicholas Jenkins recalling thoughts of times long ago; his coming of age in which he is almost a passive character in all matters.
As we are led through this life with the aid of rich writing, characters frequently disappear and reappear in unexpected combinations and when least expected. This continual turnover keeps the books fresh and by the end I appreciated so many characters due to Powell’s perfect observances on the idiosyncracies of his fellow humans.
The central idea of the series is that life is a cycle of stages played out through a web of interconnections where people and places come together and split apart in a dance through life which only becomes clear as we progress further through this ceremony.
Not only are we treated to the fine and well observed study of our fellow creatures but Powell also finely satirises the upper middle class in particular but turns his eye to a much more varied and complex group of people. There is a pleasing sensation when one delves in of a sense of melancholy as time, circumstance and friendships change, all this is topped off with many references to art and literature which gives the readers reference to new ideas and culture that have stood the test of time and probably have a host of symbolism to explore as well..
As a result the books are told with slow pacing but due to the movement of time and people, we are propelled inexorably onwards through a mix of interwar decadence and politics, making the reading more of an experience than just another story, Tolstoy’s War and Peace came to mind as a similar experience as I was winding my way through the pages of A Dance.
Having read all three books within a short space of time, I found the first had the most impact, possibly due to the being my first taste of Powell’s writing but also because it is such a wonderfully balanced introduction. The books are very much of their time regarding the attitudes to race and sex but there is much to recommend in this sprawling chronicle of life laid bare. The rest of the series is already in my possession on the strength of Spring and following the journey of these characters, in tandem with the style of writing and the feast of language makes this an unforgettable reading experience that has been excellently set up for Summer,which I expect to have read way before that season eventually greets us again.