Continuing the chronicles of life experience via narrator Nicholas Jenkins, this spoiler free review focuses on books seven to nine of the series: The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art, and The Military Philosophers.
Obligatory warning to those people who feel it necessary to pick up a series at the half way point for reasons only known to them: whilst not spoiling anything of these or previous books, if you do like what you read, start with the Spring books as the Autumn omnibus will be pretty impenetrable at this point to newcomers, who will lack the sense of nuance created in previous volumes.
This third mini trilogy in greater narrative is another 720 page tome which is a joy to spend time with. By now its obvious that I love this masterwork otherwise I wouldn’t still be endeavouring to carry on but the more I engage with the characters, the richer the books become. As with the previous books the reader is in for a treat, discovering and rediscovering characters full of wit, eccentricity and intricacy.
Another phase of life begins anew for Jenkins et al. and the effects of the war lead to some unexpected changes in familiar personalities, whilst exploring the impact of some exiting characters. The impact of the second world war is far-reaching not just in geographical and emotional ways but also to the shaking up of social class structure. This book is one of acute change on all sides.
In this modern world of ours where everybody wants to talk (or shout) about themselves, it is refreshing to find a narrator who reveals little of himself throughout the books and focuses on what is going on around him. Whilst he retains the same detachedness that has seen him through school to this point there is now, more than ever, a justifiable sense of experienced world-weariness. The books he name checks – most noticeably Proust and to a lesser extent Balzac – give a tantalising hint to the man behind the narrative voice and the author himself.
There are the usual slew of new characters introduced and getting to know them counteracts the very real boredom of the war as seen from the backwaters and offices of the UK. This dullness of duty is offset by Powell’s wonderful prose, it is rich in both depth and message and gives the right amount of balance to delivering bright spots in what is a very downbeat (to say the least) time in history. Few authors would be able to be as precise and delicate in this depiction.
It’s always a pleasure to see old faces dancing in and out of Jenkins’ life, although the sad demise of others is a real blow to the reader. Mirroring life, that sense of always expecting people to always be around is starkly rammed home when news of these deaths is brought up, I found nearly all of them to be great losses, which says a lot for what they added to my enjoyment of the text. Still nobody can expect a cast as big as this one to get through the war unscathed.
For a sense of balance there is one thing that pulled me out of the text just slightly and that was the military acronyms such as DAAG, for instance which did throw me a bit but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t all that much of a complaint and the only one I have.
These books ooze class (pun intended), the sense of comedy and melancholy, which are inseparable in life as well as this series are most strongly and rightly felt in this Autumn collection. It will be sad to finish this series, that I have taken so much pleasure in reading as it is such a wonderful and memorable read but as Jon Snow is always saying ‘Winter is coming’ so I should bow to the inevitability of such an event and read that soon.