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.
Volume 2 contains the second three novels in the sequence: At Lady Molly’s; Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant; The Kindly Ones
Having no other blurb would usually be inadequate for the eager reader but in this instance I’m glad of it. It would take a talented writer to not only quantify the story of all these collected lives but to tease out a discernible thread within the whirl of time and meeting, both chance and planned.
Sometimes a story is not about the end goal but about the experience, the furthering of this particular encounter is a pleasurable one. I loved the first omnibus and books four to six better it in a lot of ways but I still prefer the overall consistency of the ‘Spring’ books.
A couple of months since reading the last omnibus, which I loved, I was slightly worried I would lose the thread of some of the characters and their convoluted histories but Powell always allows for that and made it easy to recall them through the narrative. It may have helped that I read the Spring omnibus straight though, rather than taking my time but with a writer such as Powell, it is doubtful the reader will wish to leave long between novels.
Along the walls frescoes tinted in pastel shades, executed with infinite feebleness of design, appealed to heaven knows what nadir of aesthetic degradation.
It was easy to slip back into that world of gossip and dinner parties framed with plenty of references, to art, literature, and music. This time it felt more world-weary as Narrator Nick Jenkins takes us into further through all these lives and most notably opens up gradually about more himself, rather than being the detached observer he was in the previous volume. There is a sense of time catching up and of a growing maturity. the zest of the young lessening and life taking its toll in myriad ways.
Familiar faces return alongside new to keep the stories fresh but there is also an added poignancy as war starts to become an inevitability for the characters. The theme of chapters closing and opening is not just down to the concerns over a coming conflict and the Abdication but also the smaller chapters of all lives, ones we instantly know and some with hindsight.
The novels each feel different in tone and also bounced around time a lot as well which coupled with the social aspects of the day and sheer number of character combinations always keep the reader entertained throughout. Powell manages to make a lot of conversations about anything sound interesting, as well as injecting some dry, subtle humour especially in the form of Smith the butler who loves a sneaky drink, it is rare so when the comedy does make itself known, it comes as a treat.
I love this series so far and am looking forward to books six to nine, which I am sure will be just as excellent as the preceding volumes. Halfway through the 1400 odd pages of this story and fine writing certainly makes it a must for any reader who values not only great writing but also the study of anthropology. It is a masterful series so far and it shows little sign of letting up as we enter the war years.
The Vision of Visions heals the Blindness of Sight