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

23 Jan

hammertimeAnthony 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

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47 Comments

Posted by on 23/01/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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47 responses to “A Dance to the Music of Time: Summer – Anthony Powell

  1. shadowoperator

    23/01/2017 at 14:04

    I have read the whole series twice through, the first time just as a challenge to finish it, the second time because I wanted once again to have a world to live in fictionally that lasted for a long time. The scope is certainly amazing and brilliant, as you’ve pointed out. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

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    • Ste J

      23/01/2017 at 15:12

      I’ll probably wait until March to read the Autumn as I like to mix it up and would hate to devour it all at once but yes it is a wonderful series and the next three novels are sure to be a massive highlight. It is a faraway world but one I could stand in a for a few hours were it reality.

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  2. Alastair Savage

    23/01/2017 at 15:10

    Do you find the books dated in the way that Evelyn Waugh’s work has become, riddled with archaic hatred and contempt for anyone outside their English upper-class milieu?

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    • Ste J

      23/01/2017 at 15:16

      I haven’t gotten around to Waugh yet, despite owning three books by him. Apparently in real life Powell was like that but it doesn’t show through in the books, probably because it hasn’t left the upper and upper middle classes yet. Perhaps the next three during World War Two will introduce a new mixture as the characters will be out of their comfort zone somewhat.

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      • Alastair Savage

        23/01/2017 at 16:03

        Some of Waugh is very funny, but its always horribly racist. He was apparently loathed by many people in real life. During his service in WWII some people opined that he was the sort of officer who would get shot by his own men.

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        • Ste J

          24/01/2017 at 13:48

          After finishing Powell, I will get around to reading him. He sounds like the one that nobody wants to invite to a party.

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          • Alastair Savage

            24/01/2017 at 13:54

            I thought Waugh would be fun to invite to a party and you’d laugh along to his anecdotes for a bit, before he went off on one and left you appalled.

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            • Ste J

              24/01/2017 at 14:02

              It would be cringeworthy, he’d be a star on those hidden camera shows, coming out with horrible quips.

              Liked by 1 person

               
  3. Sheila

    23/01/2017 at 21:06

    Three hundred characters would be a lot to keep track of – does it seem to be more about the place or the time period than the characters? Historical fiction is always fun for that chance to travel back in time.

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 13:42

      The places vary but it is the flow of people, the connections and combinations that really drive the book. It doesn’t feel like that many, as many pop up again throughout and Powell always seeks to remind who they are through conversations so it doesn’t seem forced but helps the reader remember. Answering these comments, I am tempted to get on with the Autumn omnibus really soon.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. heavenali

    23/01/2017 at 21:52

    You make me nostalgic for these books, which I loved so much. The first two volumes were my favourites I think. Enjoy the rest.

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 15:24

      I am looking forward to the rest now, I am trying to space them out for one omnibus every two months but I am really tempted to dive in after a couple more randomly chosen books.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Lyn

    23/01/2017 at 22:19

    Ste J, Ste J, Ste J, ~sigh~ I’m going to be in Heaven before I get to read all these books you keep teasing me with 😀

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 12:32

      I’m sure there will be a library there! Sorry to keep springing these books on you, I can’t help it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. writersideup

    23/01/2017 at 22:56

    When were these written, Ste J? You’ve made them sound WONderful and, of course, makes me hate that I will probably never have time to add them to my TBR *sigh*

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 14:11

      They were published between 1951 and 1975. I am thoroughly enjoying them and replying to these comments makes me want to start the next one right now. Time ruins everything, if it weren’t for that then we’d all be hidden in books all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • writersideup

        24/01/2017 at 17:48

        Oh, you are so right! And I just looked this up through my library system. There is only one book listed, published in 1995, but I can’t tell if it’s one volume or perhaps the whole series in one compilation :-\

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        • Ste J

          26/01/2017 at 15:18

          It’s a possibility that hve them all in one massive volume but there isn’t much of a way to tell. You could always order it in and have a flick through if it isn’t the first book and see what it is like.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  7. clarepooley33

    23/01/2017 at 23:56

    I am sure I’d love this series of books! I thought so after your review of Spring and I think so still. I will get the set and they can sit on my groaning over-full bookshelf and wait their turn.

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 13:26

      It is always good to horde and they look great on the bookshelf as well. Once you start you will fly through them, they really are that good. It is a challenge to write these reviews without spoilers but that is part of the fun.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. Liz Dexter

    24/01/2017 at 06:58

    I’m glad you’re loving these! Powell DOES make it easy to remember who characters are and their place in the narrative and Nick’s history, doesn’t he. After my read of “PIlgrimage” last year, I appreciate it even more when writers do this for their readers.

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 13:36

      It is strange to not have to worry about all these characters and I found the same with War and Peace albeit differently, there it seemed like lesser characters only hung around the same major characters so were synonymous with them making recall easier. I look forward to the challenges of Pilgrimage soon!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Sarah

    24/01/2017 at 08:57

    I almost didn’t read this post in case of spoilers, but I couldn’t resist anyway! I’ve just finished the first book (I’m taking a book a month) and enjoyed the writing and the characters, although having not long ago read ‘Brideshead Revisited’ I’m feeling a bit Oxbridged out! Still, I’m looking forward to February’s offering, and hopefully there’ll be just a little less tweed-clad, jolly, drunken japes in borrowed motor cars!

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 13:56

      You never get any spoilers with me. I was debating whether to talk about a certain character but that would diminish the experience for you and others so I refrained. It does get maturer as you follow the characters and like thinking back to something like The Wire, it all flows and is impossible for me to remember the order of things until I experience it again but its a great series and I am already envious of you reading these books for the first time.

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  10. Renard Moreau

    24/01/2017 at 13:16

    [ Smiles ] I truly wish that more people read books like that instead of watching television!

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    • Ste J

      24/01/2017 at 13:31

      They did make a mini series of these books coincidentally but yes I agree, literature offers so much more than TV or film does in terms emotional connect and depth of story.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Renard Moreau

        24/01/2017 at 14:50

        [ Smiles ] I prefer the books over the television, because the movie industry does not always follow the true story of the book; they tend to stray a lot.

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        • Ste J

          24/01/2017 at 15:08

          Yes, I understand the problems they have, with needing to keep the viewer hooked and all that but then you look at The Wire which was written as a bovel almost in its story and character building…the books that came before the series were also magnificent too.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  11. Andrea Stephenson

    24/01/2017 at 18:55

    12 novels and 300 characters, that sounds like a real tour de force, how on earth did he keep track of them all and continue to make it interesting.

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2017 at 14:35

      I was thinking just that the the day, you would need a whole wall to work it all out with all the links, it really is a truly ambitious and impressive feat.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. macjam47

    24/01/2017 at 20:59

    I can’t say I’ve read many series, but you make this one sound absolutely fascinating. Putting it on my loooooonnnnng list.

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2017 at 14:37

      This is one of those series that you start reading and know you will be rereading it again in the future. Happy to see your list steadily getting bigger.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • macjam47

        26/01/2017 at 17:06

        Steve, my list is getting so long, I won’t be able to read all in five lifetimes. LOL

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        • Ste J

          27/01/2017 at 15:51

          Then your challenge is prioritising, which I appreciate I ruin quite a lot.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • macjam47

            27/01/2017 at 16:22

            Either prioritize or find the magic pill or learn to speed read.

            Liked by 1 person

             
  13. Resa

    24/01/2017 at 21:55

    I love your reviews, and I maintain that the reason is because you have an overt passion for reading.
    Even if I spend all my spare time making gowns and walking around in the streets looking for art, I also love books.
    I adore the fact that the author had the passion to write 4 long volumes. That in itself is alluring to me.

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2017 at 15:23

      Books really are great, being in that world, a world that is uniquely one’s own but is so discussable to everybody. It always makes me happy. That authors share their worlds with us is always such a wonderful gift.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Resa

        26/01/2017 at 23:18

        Have you read “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury?
        If you have not…. I insist you do. This book was written for you.
        If you have, then I ask, “what book will you memorize?”

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        • Ste J

          27/01/2017 at 15:53

          I have read the book, it was a good read, as for which book I would memorise, well I struggle to remember a lot of things but if I had to try to memorise a book, perhaps something by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Not only would it improve my vocabulary and be an impressive feat in itself to remember, it would also draw the crowds.

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  14. Asha Seth

    25/01/2017 at 07:12

    No matter how very interesting these sound, they sure demand a commitment and dedication, I seem to lack of late. But will gladly follow your reviews here to catch with the most of the series.

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2017 at 15:33

      You will get back to commitment soon and reading all the HP books is commitment enough in terms of length of series. My reviews won’t contain any spoilers so when you do get around to the series you won’t have it ruined by me.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  15. anna amundsen

    25/01/2017 at 18:09

    I will definitely not get to these this year as I opted for British women writers of the 20th century and a travel through the former Soviet Union. But I will look forward to your reviews!

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2017 at 14:59

      They will be worth the wait and your subjects for this year will both lead to some fascinating book discoveries too, of which I am looking forward.

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  16. shoshibookblog

    25/01/2017 at 22:38

    I’m really looking forward to reading this book sequence and your reviews are certainly wetting my appetite. I love the way you’re pacing yourself throughout the year with them. Who knows, maybe 2017 will be the time I finally get stuck in (I’m thinking of starting in the Spring!)

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    • Ste J

      26/01/2017 at 15:14

      Spring is a good time and fits in with the first book ( or three books depending on if you get the omnibuses (omnibi?) or not). I feel the need to pace myself because once its over I will never have a new boo in the sequence to read ever again and that would feel sad, at least until I got distracted by something else literary.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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