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

02 Jun

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.Save

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17 Comments

Posted by on 02/06/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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17 responses to “A Dance to the Music of Time: Autumn – Anthony Powell

  1. shadowoperator

    02/06/2017 at 13:35

    Dear Ste J, I’m so glad you like this series. But you know, after you review “Winter,” I feel that the mysterious Widmerpool deserves at least a short post all on his own. Is he alter ego to Nicholas Jenkins, or not? And what about the changes he himself goes through? Is he only a red herring character, or what? He continues to perplex me.

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    • Ste J

      02/06/2017 at 13:42

      Of course! I have been thinking of starting a series of various character studies and Widmerpool will be on there for sure, I mainly left him out due to spoilers but he is a fascinating fellow, sometimes I root for the man and other times I downright loathe him. I will attempt Winter in a month or so I think, eager to be back in that world again.

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  2. Liz Dexter

    02/06/2017 at 16:38

    After I finished reading the series for the second time, I kept SEEING Widmerpool everywhere I went. I’m so glad you’re getting such a lot out of the books, I love them so much and my husband greatly enjoyed the audiobooks (in fact raced ahead of me in our planned read over a year!).

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    • Ste J

      02/06/2017 at 17:00

      I’m thoroughly enjoying them, very interested to see how it all ends up. I know this is a series I will love to reread over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Resa

    02/06/2017 at 18:29

    I’ve enjoyed your review of the stories of the 3 seasons so far. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m looking forward to winter! 😀

    Oh, the book i was reading is titled “Clearing In The West” by Nellie McCLung.

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    • Ste J

      03/06/2017 at 11:52

      At least you will get a mini winter with Game of Thrones coming back. I’ve never heard of the book, I shall check it out.

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  4. heavenali

    02/06/2017 at 20:30

    Those military acronyms got on my nerves – but glad you’re still enjoying this sequence.

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    • Ste J

      03/06/2017 at 11:14

      At least they weren’t central to the plot, it was easy enough to ignore them after a while. I really am enjoying the whole experience, I need to find another series of books to fill the void once its over.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Clare Pooley

    03/06/2017 at 00:24

    I love books/book series where I get so deeply immersed in the narrative it takes me some time to come back to reality and then want to return there as though it were an actual country. I am so pleased you are enjoying these novels. This series is on my TBR list. When I will be able to get round to reading them is anyone’s guess!

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    • Ste J

      03/06/2017 at 11:55

      One of the biggest challenges is not spoiling it, especially when there is so much of note to talk about. I think you will love these and at 12 months, it makes for a really good book a month challenge, that’s why I save them up for three months and then read them all at once like a greedy bear.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. Sarah

    03/06/2017 at 11:01

    Ok, you’ve won me over. I really do need to play catch up with this series. I only wish I hadn’t launched into it after a heavy dose of Waugh as I could have done with a palate cleanse from toffs and public school/ oxbridge japes! I’ll be starting vol 2 soon and hopefully it’ll be plain sailing from here onwards!

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    • Ste J

      03/06/2017 at 11:49

      Now you have had time to let things settle, I think you will love immersing yourself in the next volume.

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  7. Seyi sandra

    03/06/2017 at 21:36

    I truly wish I could read this! Excellent review Ste J.

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  8. Asha Seth

    01/07/2017 at 08:25

    This looks like one of those books I may never get around reading. Now, don’t get me wrong. The review is just as good as it could get. But I find such behemoths quite intimidating.

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    • Ste J

      02/07/2017 at 21:40

      Each book is usually around the 250-300 page mark so taking them like that makes it seem less heavy. It is a really good read, you won’t regret reading any of them.

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