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A Dance to the Music of Time: Spring – Anthony Powell

24 Oct

SpringTimeMelancholyAnthony 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.

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40 Comments

Posted by on 24/10/2016 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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40 responses to “A Dance to the Music of Time: Spring – Anthony Powell

  1. heavenali

    24/10/2016 at 13:49

    I read the entire sequence a couple of years ago- reading one individual novel a month. I remember the opening of A Question of Upbringing as being wonderfully evocative. I loved the whole series.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      24/10/2016 at 13:54

      I hear the best books are from 4-9 so I am looking forward to getting started on the next three. I have decided to read them an omnibus at a time in fairly quick succession so I can retain who is married to whom, it’s a little labyrinthine. I’m just gutted that it took me this long to discover it.

      Liked by 2 people

       
  2. Liz Dexter

    24/10/2016 at 16:00

    I love this book, I re-read a little while ago, I’m thinking it wasn’t the same year that Ali did it, but I can’t remember. I read it with my husband reading on audio book – we were supposed to do a book a month but he loved it so much that he galloped ahead then badgered me to keep reading. I love the way characters circle back and reappear!

    Note there is a companion but it has spoilers, so you have to wait till you’ve read it all and then get and read that!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      24/10/2016 at 16:22

      I saw the companion mentioned in the back of the book but as you say spoilers and I can’t be having that at all. I’ve decided to read the books three at a time, just because they are so good and that is something I rarely do with series of any genre. It is a wonderful read, I’m quite glad my social life is lacking at the moment!

      Liked by 2 people

       
  3. Liz

    24/10/2016 at 19:46

    I have always liked the idea of these books, but felt a bit daunted by the extent of them. I feel galvanised into giving them a go now! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      25/10/2016 at 12:38

      There are many but they are also a decent size, of the first three each book was less than three hundred pages and looking at the size of the other three omnibuses there isn’t a lot of differences in the total pages. You can also find single copies around as well which are worth keeping an eye out for. They are a good read, I will start on Summer soon as well.

      Liked by 2 people

       
      • Liz

        27/10/2016 at 11:59

        I wonder if they might be good candidates for audio books – I find that sagas like this can be a great listen. Will investigate further.

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        • Ste J

          28/10/2016 at 16:07

          With the right people voicing it would be a wonderful audio book. I just checked and I think all of it is free on Audible.co.uk for free. May be worth checking out, the first three books alone run to 21 hours so you will get a lot for you not money.

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          • Liz

            28/10/2016 at 17:03

            It is not showing as free for me – the ‘first movement’ is £24.15 for 21 hours, but I could get it with my monthly credit for which I paid a mere £7.99 – not bad!

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            • Ste J

              28/10/2016 at 17:09

              My mistake, from what I believe the source I had was out of date on that score and that’s about the price of a new book so it works out fine.

              Liked by 1 person

               
              • Liz

                28/10/2016 at 17:16

                Yes, it’s great value. I am always amazed at how often the value of my credit is at least tripled.

                Liked by 1 person

                 
  4. Sherri

    24/10/2016 at 20:34

    I can see why this series has gripped you my friend. Anything that perfects the ‘observances on the idiosyncracies of his fellow humans’ fascinates me. Quite when I will be able to read these books remains to be seen, but thanks to your as always eloquent review, this series is definitely one for the ever-growing list…

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      25/10/2016 at 12:58

      Always piling on books my friend, I am relentless, I apologise (kind of). When you finish your memoires this will be a treat for you to curl up and hide with.

      Liked by 2 people

       
  5. cricketmuse

    24/10/2016 at 23:53

    This gives an idea for next year’s reading challenge: series! I’ve heard about Powell–time to try him out.

    Liked by 2 people

     
    • Ste J

      25/10/2016 at 12:42

      A book a month would make for a pleasant way to go through the series and being pretty short it will be easy enough to manage as long as life doesn’t get in the way. He is well worth a read.

      Liked by 2 people

       
  6. clarepooley33

    25/10/2016 at 01:14

    I have seen this series in bookshops and have ummed and ahhhed about buying it and then chickened out. After having read you excellent review I think I will have to read the series. Another sequence of books to add to my long list.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      25/10/2016 at 12:54

      Yes, yes! Add them and find the first book, I really loved it, it wasn’t what I expected but nonetheless it was an excellent start to the series and the next nine books will be a treat.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. Sarah

    25/10/2016 at 12:15

    As I’m coming to the end of Dorothy Richardson’s ‘Pilgrimage’ which I’ve read over the course of this year, I’m quite tempted to do the same with this – especially as the first volume has been sitting on my shelf for a while now. Hmmm…. if not this year, it’ll be next year, but your post has definitely whetted my appetite!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      25/10/2016 at 12:48

      From what I understand from reading various reviews of Pilgrimage, this will feel like a lot less of a challenge to read, I polished it all three books off in about two weeks, and I read another book in between one and two. I love epic series like this although given the timeline, I fear for the characters futures…

      Liked by 2 people

       
  8. Asha Seth

    26/10/2016 at 10:25

    A mention of Tolstoy’s War and Peace
    Always brings a smile to my lips. 🙂
    This book seems much interesting albeit slow. But if I manage my hands on it, I’d dive into it headfirst right in.
    How’ve you been? Isn’t it long we haven’t spoken or is the summer plotting illusions in my mind? 😛

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    • Ste J

      28/10/2016 at 16:12

      It should be a slow book with what it is but it does barrel along at a fair pace, or maybe I just had lots of time to read. I think you’ll like it.

      I have been alright, working nights and trying to squeeze in everything since then but with any luck I will be able to sort something to be around more soon, that way I can chat with you a lot more. I hope you are well my friend?

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Christy B

    26/10/2016 at 23:07

    I have not read Powell’s books but, dang, your review is a great one! It’s such a good sign when you want to read multiple books by the same author.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      28/10/2016 at 16:02

      Usually I am quite reticent to pick up an omnibus of three or even more than one book from a series in case I don’t like it but with fellow blogger Shadow Operator encouraging me and the recommendations of the inimitable Christopher Hitchens, I took a punt and was well rewarded. I am hoping to squeeze the next three books in before Christmas.

      Like

       
  10. shadowoperator

    27/10/2016 at 15:36

    I envy you so much–my Powell volumes are packed away in a mound of stuff in the storage, and I can’t get at them. Time to try to see if they’re on the library websites at all. Keep reading!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      28/10/2016 at 15:47

      Well if you can’t find them, you can live them vicariously through moi, I think I will read one more book (after the one I am on) and then tackle the three Summer books. The closeness of WWII does worry me somewhat though…

      Like

       
  11. LuAnn

    29/10/2016 at 15:23

    Who am I to disagree with your other commenters? Actually this sounds like a very appealing series of books. Will add to my ever-growing list as well. Thanks for the great review!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      29/10/2016 at 15:54

      Twelve for the price of one, you can’t go wrong with that. I’m always happy to put pressure on your bank balance my friend and if you haven’t red them before we meet, remind me and I will pick you up a set.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • LuAnn

        29/10/2016 at 15:59

        I don’t mind the pressure on my bank account provided I have enough for travel, as I have a fellow bloke to meet across some pond. 😉

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        • Ste J

          29/10/2016 at 16:16

          To travel is to live. Somebody (me) once said that about five seconds ago. Travel and books, my friend, we have the perfect loves with which to chat about.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • LuAnn

            29/10/2016 at 16:40

            Do you mind if I use that line in one of my posts? Truer words were not spoken! Travel and books are the two great loves of my life as well.

            Like

             
            • Ste J

              31/10/2016 at 18:38

              Of course you can my friend, sharing is always good, unless its Doritos, then you can get your own bag!

              Liked by 1 person

               
              • LuAnn

                31/10/2016 at 19:53

                You can have the Doritos but popcorn I might have to arm wrestle you for! Thanks so much and I will give you credit.

                Like

                 
  12. macjam47

    02/11/2016 at 12:58

    As always, your review is very persuasive. I will add this to my ever-growing list of books to read. I hope there are books in the afterlife because there is no way I will get to read all in this life.

    Like

     
  13. Anne Gaelan Writer

    11/11/2016 at 19:39

    Anthony Powell is a great writer.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      11/11/2016 at 19:55

      Agreed, I can’t wait to get stuck into more of this series!

      Like

       
  14. anna amundsen

    12/11/2016 at 12:11

    Every spring for the past four or five years I think to myself ‘It’s time for Powell’, and it turns out it was not. There are always some other good books pushing their way into my hands.
    So, I am changing the tactics: I am not going to think about reading ”A Dance to the Music of Time”!
    On the other hand, I think the reason I keep choosing other books over these is that I would prefer reading my own copies. Reading it on Kindle doesn’t seem right. It’s just how I felt about ”Parade’s End”. I had to suppress my yearning and wait until I had the actual, physical book beside me.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      12/11/2016 at 19:01

      I totally understand that, the physical book does make life so much easier and I find it seems to trigger an emotional response reading it but more so on the subsequent picking up of the book as well. I was hoping to get Summer read before Christmas but it seems that I won’t be able to fit it in sadly.

      Like

       

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