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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.

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Posted by on 30/09/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – Oliver Tearle

The Secret Library is a fascinating tour through the curious history of Western civilisation told through its most emblematic invention – the book.

As well as leafing through the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, Oliver Tearle also dusts off some of the more neglected items to be found hidden among the bookshelves of the past.

You’ll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, the woman who became the first published poet in America and the eccentric traveller who introduced the table-fork to England. Through exploring a variety of books – novels, plays, travel books, science books, cookbooks, joke books and sports almanacs – The Secret Library highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of our history. It also reveals the surprising connections between various works and historical figures. What links Homer’s Iliad to Aesop’s Fables? Or Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack to the creator of Sherlock Holmes?

The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersections between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.

Books about books are great, they reaffirm our love for the medium and encourage us to go out and buy more, not to mention the exciting finds of obscure literature that can be shared and kept alive by intrepid reading adventurers.

What drew me to the book originally was the cover. Who can resist looking at a cover that has a bit cut out of it?  Stripping off the cloak, rows and rows of books are seen, as through the key hole.  It’s a nice touch and puts the reader in mind of being close to discovering lots of new books, always a good feeling.

This history of sorts is broken down into eras of Western civilisation and the chronological order is as follows: The Classical Age, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Romanticism, The Victorians, The Americans, On the Continent, The Modern World.  There is a lot to be enjoyed in each age but it would have been fun to have read about the other continents, but then that was not the remit of the book so hopefully a future book of the sort could grace the shelves. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/07/2017 in Essays, History

 

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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

 

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Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks – David Lavery

Full of Secrets contains virtually everything you need to know about Twin Peaks. This fascinating collection of essays considers David Lynch’s politics, the enigmatic musical score, and the show’s cult status, treatment of violence, obsession with doubling, and silencing of women. Also included are a director and writer list, a cast list, a Twin Peaks calendar, a complete scene breakdown for the entire series, and a comprehensive bibliography.

What a comeback event the first few episodes of the third season  of Twin Peaks was. No doubt one of the seminal shows of television history, this book analyses the first two seasons and prequel film Fire Walk With me but rest assured as ever, there are no spoilers contained anywhere within this review.

The twelve detailed analyses contained in this collection are part of the fascinating world of deconstruction that never ceases to revolve around this enigmatic show.  It is a shame, then, that it is such a challenge to tease out the interesting bits from a lot of overblown posturing.

Any attempt to intellectualise Twin Peaks (as written by these authors all with a Ph.d) will predictably straddle the fine line between pretentious and sometimes insightful.  There is a lot called on here to illustrate points from art and literature all the way through to Semiotics.  It underlines the point that when something is a mystery, more obscure references must be pulled in to explain points and thus widen and convolute the original enigma.

The selection of subjects is of varying interest, the internet chatrooms – in their infancy in the early 90’s – is interesting, as the state of US TV and how programmes are marketed to different demographics. Any mention of Umberto Eco is always likely to make my day as well. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/05/2017 in Essays, TV

 

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The Holiday – Stevie Smith

Celia works at the Ministry in the post-war England of 1949 and lives in a London suburb with her beloved Aunt. Witty, fragile, quixotic, Celia is preoccupied with love — for her friends, her colleagues, her relations, and especially for her adored cousin Casmilus, with whom she goes on holiday to visit Uncle Heber, the vicar. Here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate — moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love.

Alarm bells were ringing fairly early on with this one, it was all to do with the dreadful, disjointed, uninteresting conversation at a dinner party. A lack of speech marks didn’t help the book’s case either.

Getting over that hurdle early on, the book opened out into an assorted collection of meditations on the experiences of love and politics and the past, before becoming mildly irritating towards the end.  This is a book that will probably polarise opinions of all who read it.

There is little to add to the above blurb in terms of storyline, you are getting precisely what you read there.  It all rests on the quality of said writing and that is where this reader would have preferred more balance, what Smith says is much more interesting than the way She has written down.  Whilst the whimsical structure and thought processes of Celia and co. work well enough, it is the writing itself that troubled me.

There is plenty of repetition of certain words, whether in the same sentence or throughout a conversation, it’s distracting to be told four times within a page that the same character is saying something maliciously, for example.  Whether this writing is an intentional choice or through lack of a decent editor, I don’t know but it soon becomes tiresome.  There is a richness to our language and often I was mentally inserting my own words to avoid the repetitiveness.

It all feels very English, the countryside setting in summer is delightful and I enjoyed being there.  The novel possess a dreamy melancholia for the past (relationships and ways of life); as well as the uncertain future – to the backdrop of the Indian independence, and the waning of the British Empire – for the characters as well as the country. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/03/2017 in Fiction

 

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Spring in the Step

Spring has finally sprung today and in a glorious way!

Over the last few months I have randomly decided to sit and read a few pages of whichever book I was at the time reading, just to gauge how soon I will be able to do it for a sustained period outdoors.  Today would have been perfect for that, had I remembered my book.

Still, it was a nice to see people sitting out on the grass and all the benches full of too and a gorgeous blue sky to daydream with.  I also took great delight in looking down. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/03/2017 in Travel

 

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Four Days in January: A Letter to Jillsan – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

letteringThis is a modern tale, a journey of the heart, a road back, revisiting many cities and enduring Eastern and Western sentiments to light and lighten our understanding of life’s fleeting appearance.

It is a way of honouring the life of a loved one, to tell a personal story that reflects the shared, universal truth of the silence of loss from Kakimoto to Goethe and beyond.

Four Days in January is a beautifully told, deeply moving and poignant letter of loss, yet also the celebration of the life of a loved one through allegory, music, poetry and personal records.

Told in letter-form, Four Days in January records the story of two lovers and their lives through marriage and parenthood following his diplomatic career spent in different parts of the world, and the role and dedication of the diplomat’s wife.

Here is a very open volume that offers an array of inspirational thoughts for anyone facing loss and bereavement.

Having read most of Mr Jørgensen’s other books this one, whilst no less readable was an altogether different beast. It is a meditation on life as well as loss.  A union of two coming together to live as one, of a love that really shines through, a life lived fully but also a statement on the cruelty of having it cut short.

The beginning takes us through the unfolding tragedy of a life suddenly declining. It is told in an unflinching way and it moved this reader immensely.  Despite reading this book in January, I know that the opening will be the best one I read all year, which is saying something as I continue to amass great literature.

This personal final letter to his love is an intimate portrait, delicately penned, a chronicle of a shared existence, told through a number of key vignettes.  What makes this an intensely moving piece of work is that it is real life, good and bad things happen but it is a reminder to appreciate it every day for what it is.  Even the most mundane of times can become something beautiful when viewed the right way. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/02/2017 in Autobiography, Life, Memoir

 

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