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

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 4 contains the last three novels in the sequence: Books do Furnish a Room; Temporary Kings; Hearing Secret Harmonies.

As ever no spoilers will be contained in this review so as not to mar the experience for readers yet to embark on, or are already in amongst the wonderful prose.

Having read each season in a different one, Spring in Autumn, Summer in winter and so forth, I finally finished Winter in the heat of August and feel that melancholy of emptiness when eventually concluding a mammoth series and wondering what could top that.

Starting book ten I was feeling a little sad for this, the twilight of the final trilogy and it seemed my thoughts were echoed by Narrator Nick as well. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch characters come and go and age but sadly these last three books didn’t quite live up the magnificent first nine books.

As journey’s go, this one has been immensely gratifying. Even this late into the series, there are still new characters to be met as well as much welcomed appearances from the series stalwarts. Although after the previous war books, the original cast does feel sparse and it does leave a gap, knowing that those characters won’t be popping up unexpectedly in the Dance.

What makes it a little less immersive is the modernity of its time, whilst the inevitability of things moving on is one thing, the choice of actions and, in particular words chosen in their speech felt jarring against previous books.  In other chronicles, this would, perhaps, be a minor point but having the grounding books one to seven (and arguably eight as well), the change has been subtle but is easy to trace on reflection.

Unsurprisingly nostalgia and melancholy litter the prose and I found myself thinking of all those little stories and memories people have and share in real life, especially those of local legend that are always reminisced about. How this glorious richness of life lives on for a brief time before memory fades and the folk-lore becomes forgotten.  These stories have always been a reminder of this and the passing of this set of characters leaves a thought-provoking scar on the mind.

This series has been a fantastic read, the eventual culmination of a certain character and the final lines were very nicely done. Despite this omnibus of three books being, for me, the weakest it is still a more than satisfying ending to a collection of books that demands to be read again for the sheer pleasure one has in getting lost in its people and events.

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32 Replies to “A Dance to the Music of Time: Winter – Anthony Powell”

  1. Hello, my dear. it’s really nice to see you posting again, after such a hiatus. I too will be putting up something new soon, after such a long time, but you beat me to the punch. I really loved this whole series, and didn’t feel the same about the quality of the last three books, which I felt was unchanged, though I too felt an emptiness when there was no longer any more “Dance” to read. What did you think about Widmerpool’s final transformation (you can e-mail me if you have time, so as not to issue a spoiler)?

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    1. It has been a strange month but now I am feeling a sense of urgency to catch up on my writing and to visit blogs again. The last three books are by no means anything other than really good but they just didn’t hold me as well, I thought they would after reading the first part of book ten but it was still a great read.

      Email sent.

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  2. I read From a View to a Death and enjoyed it immensely. Thanks to you. But I still get cold feet when I see a twelve volume novel. I suppose I should stop standing in the refrigerator.

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    1. That is another one to add to my list,I am looking forward to something different from Powell now. Pop those feet on the radiator and get stuck in, each book is only around 250-280 pages so taken one at a time it really isn’t a challenge. Although I found it more of a challenge to eek them out in the end.

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    1. It really is a literary experience rather than just another book. I am already excited for the next read through, in a decade or two’s time.

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  3. I’m really glad you got such a lot out of it. I’ve read it twice now, and it was rewarding both times. This volume reminded me weirdly of Iris Murdoch’s “The Message to the Planet”.

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    1. I’m yet to pick up any Murdoch yet. I have enacted a book buying ban for the moment, to actually get down some. I’m handling it too well, I think…I have to go cold turkey at some point, surely.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Sadly my friend, the book collection is being dismantled so I will be getting rid of most of my books, which is sad but that is life sometimes.

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  4. Every time you write about this series I feel sure that I must raise it higher on my TBR list, and this post is no exception – in fact I have gone so far as to download Vol 1 on Kindle (not bad for £1.99) and am looking forward to getting started, so thank you for the reminder. Meanwhile, you might be interested in this review of a recent Powell biography which I spotted today by coincidence… https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/28/anthony-powell-dancing-music-time-review

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    1. £1.99 is an absolute bargain, how I envy you to be reading it for the first time. It’s such a good read, it never gets long winded or boring, it is…well I’ll let you discover that for yourself. I am not usually to into biographies but perhaps that is another area I need to read more in with this being at the top of the list.

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  5. Nice to see you here again Ste J! I’ve been too busy to post recently too. Thanks for the review – I will definitely be reading this series of books (but not quite yet).

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    1. I am very intermittent these days, I need to get a schedule and stick to it. So much is going on at the moment that it is a challenge to write. I shall be over soon to visit though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really must return to this as I left it floundering after the first instalment. I guess I just wasn’t in the right mood for it when I started it back in January, but yet again your review has reminded me to pick it back up for another try.

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    1. Yes, please give it another go, it really is worth carrying on with it. I find that even with a gap between books, it is easy to recall who everyone is as well, which is testament to the writing quality and Powell’s ability to create memorable persons ans circumstances.

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  7. It does sound like a wonderful series. Now that I am reading, again, this goes on the list. You’ve really made this series sound wonderful!

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    1. I am glad to know you are reading, I have gone the other way sadly and hardly read a thing these last few months. It is a series to sink into and let it all unfold as a wonderful look at life and the people that fill it.

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  8. This makes me think of how much books often reflects life. At the end of it, if we are allowed the time to look back and wax nostalgic, it is inevitable that we consider the comings and goings of people and their importance. I can’t even imagine writing something as extensive as this. Reading it would be daunting as well. Do you think the author perhaps wanted to reflect how worn out the narrator was by making the last series feel tired or frayed along the edges? That this was part of the grand design? Or do you think the author became tired as well?

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    1. Interesting questions! For me, it was the newer stories and characters which just didn’t feel like they has the charm but that could be because of the passing of the ages and as you say there was probably some narrator jadedness in there. It never felt like a challenge to remember all the people, they all have their own way of being memorable. I do have a vision of Powell using one whole wall of his house for a giant chart of who met who where and when and how they are all connected, it was indeed a mammoth undertaking!

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