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review 2016-01-30 16:40
A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time #1) by Anthony Powell
A Question of Upbringing: Book 1 of A Dance to the Music of Time - Anthony Powell

The first of Anthony Powell's epic 12 volume saga, this is a nice introduction, but little more. This first book focusses on our narrator, one Nick Jenkins, and his youthful adventures in a series of vignettes serving to introduce us to a host of characters, and their place in post WWI British society.

   The writing is, befitting a classic, very good -a dry, sometimes bordering on sardonic style, with some simply gorgeous turns of phrase and even entire paragraphs.

   As a standalone novel, it's not very strong. However, knowing there are 11 more novels to come, covering Nick's entire life, there is a very strong sense of all the pieces being set up on a board. I thought perhaps a chessboard, but it's more complex than even that really, more like watching a master set up one of those huge and intricate domino falls. It's mesmerising to watch, but it's only a precursor to the real action - and just because you can see the patterns already, doesn't mean that something surprising and wonderful won't happen when the dominoes begin to fall.

   So 3 stars, because as much as I liked it, I didn't love it... but I have a feeling I will come to love this series as a whole. I also suspect, there is much richness and foreshadowing that would be found upon a re-read, once I've finished all 12 books. I have a feeling that after this book club read, one novel a month for all of 2016, I may very well be turning around and re-reading them all from the start again.

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review 2016-01-08 00:10
A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell
A Question of Upbringing - Anthony Powell


Description: Who is Widmerpool? The question that is to dog Nicholas Jenkins crystallizes as he sees the gawky figure of his schoolmate huffing through the mists on a solitary cross-country run. So unexceptional, unsmart -- even unpopular -- Widmerpool continues to drop in and out of Jenkins life through school, university and London in the 1920's.

Opening: THE MEN AT WORK at the corner of the street had made a kind of camp for themselves, where, marked out by tripods hung with red hurricane-lamps, an abyss in the road led down to a network of subterranean drain-pipes.

A Group Read

Searching out the paintings and books mentioned was fun until the piccies, in the meantime, had been up loaded to the group read site, so that is where you can find them, just click the above link :O)

A great introduction to the main players and an enjoyable re-visit.

First edition cover.

Veronese's Alexander - page 12

5* First Movement - Spring
5* Second Movement - Summer
5* Third Movement - Autumn
5* Fourth Movement - Winter

4* A Question of Upbringing – (1951)
A Buyer's Market – (1952)
The Acceptance World – (1955)
At Lady Molly's – (1957)
Casanova's Chinese Restaurant – (1960)
The Kindly Ones – (1962)
The Valley of Bones – (1964)
The Soldier's Art – (1966)
The Military Philosophers – (1968)
Books Do Furnish a Room – (1971)
Temporary Kings – (1973)
Hearing Secret Harmonies – (1975)
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review 2014-07-12 20:08
"Hearing Secret Harmonies" by Anthony Powell
Hearing Secret Harmonies (A Dance to the Music of Time #12) - Anthony Powell

It's curious to consider that when Anthony Powell wrote Hearing Secret Harmonies the final novel in the twelve-novel series “A Dance to the Music of Time”, and despite the series starting in the early twentieth century, that it was almost contemporaneous, being published in 1975, and taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and makes references to hippies, the permissive society, Vietnam, and Enoch Powell. 

The final two volumes, Temporary Kings and Hearing Secret Harmonies, each moving the narrative forward by around ten years, allows for some dramatic changes to have occurred, the most notable change is in Widmerpool whose trajectory dramatically changes in ways that would be difficult for anyone to imagine earlier in the series. 

Anthony Powell finished the series with a real flourish. Hearing Secret Harmonies embraces the late sixties counterculture and contains some truly stunning scenes. He also manages to introduce yet more new characters, including the memorable Scorpio Murtlock and his Harmony cult.

Overall “A Dance to the Music of Time” is magnificent. Reading the series has been such a fabulous experience. Anthony Powellis a master. Although the books can be read and enjoyed individually, and on their own terms, the real pleasure is in reading all twelve books, and enjoying a narrative that takes place over a seventy year time span. Calling his series ''A Dance" is a perfect metaphor, as Anthony Powell is akin to a choreographer, who intricately keeps track of over four hundred characters across more than a million words. It's a stunning achievement, and throughout, his beautiful writing is as much of a joy as the ingenious plot and his ambitious, and completely successful, cultural and social history of England throughout the twentieth century.

The star of the series is arguably Kenneth Widmerpool, one of the most memorable characters I have ever encountered in a book. Widmerpool is a contemporary of narrator Nick Jenkins and, despite not being friends, he crops up somewhere in every volume. Whilst narrator Nick, along with many of the characters, represent musicians, poets, novelists, painters etc., Widmerpool is the opposite, a ruthlessly ambitious person but a deeply flawed human being. I wonder to what extent he might represent the triumph of commerce and bureaucracy, over more aesthetic considerations, that appears to be one of the main aspects of twentieth century history.

Whilst reading it I have had a copy of "Invitation To The Dance" by Hilary Spurling which is a wonderful reference book, particularly when I needed reminding about a character who had just reappeared. Now I have finished the series I plan to read the whole of "Invitation To The Dance" as it clearly contains lots of other useful and interesting information. I also have a copy of To Keep the Ball Rolling: The Memoirs of Anthony Powell which looks like another wonderful book and, according to the cover, is "especially illuminating to students ofA Dance to the Music of Time". I am really looking forward to reading both, in addition to re-reading this marvellous series again.

“A Dance to the Music of Time” is a masterpiece - and one of the best literary experiences I have ever enjoyed. Profound, funny, dramatic, and remarkably accessible and easy to read. It is a series I will return to again. I cannot praise it highly enough.

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review 2014-07-10 08:21
"Temporary Kings" by Anthony Powell
Temporary Kings - Anthony Powell

"Anthony Powell is the best living English novelist by far. His admirers are addicts, let us face it, held in thrall by a magician"

Temporary Kings (1973) is the penultimate volume of Anthony Powell’s twelve-novel series “A Dance to the Music of Time” and opens in the Summer of 1958, eleven years on from Books Do Furnish a Room (Volume 10).

The star of this volume is Pamela Widmerpool who manages to trump her previous feats of outrageous behaviour. As with other volumes, new characters appear and long standing characters reappear. Despite the familiarity of so many of these characters, Powell still manages to provide surprises, along with new insights. The late X Trapnell even managing to retain a presence throughout much of this book too.

Having created the magical world of this literary masterpiece, which shines a light on relationships, personal values and social history, I cannot wait to discover how Powell wraps the saga up. 

Finishing the twelfth and final volume, Hearing Secret Harmonies, will be a bittersweet moment. This has been one of the most enjoyable literary journeys I have experienced.

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review 2014-07-02 19:03
"Books Do Furnish a Room" (A Dance to the Music of Time volume 10) by Anthony Powell
Books Do Furnish a Room - Anthony Powell

Books Do Furnish a Room (1971) is the tenth of Anthony Powell's twelve-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time

Books Do Furnish a Room follows straight on from the preceding trio of war volumes (The Valley of Bones (1964), The Soldier's Art (1966), and The Military Philosophers (1968)) and takes place in the immediate post-war period of 1946 and 1947. It is strange, and informative, to read an evocation of the atmosphere of post-war austerity in England, a period that doesn't appear to feature too often in literature (in contrast to the pre-War years and the war itself).

As the title suggests, Books Do Furnish a Room is about publishing, and specifically the publishers, Quiggins and Craggs, and their new literary magazine Fission, who Nick Jenkins joins. Plenty of pre-war characters reappear, along with a younger bohemian crowd most notably the up-and-coming novelist X. Trapnel (famously based upon a literary hero of mine Julian Maclaren-Ross). From what I know of Julian Maclaren-Ross, X. Trapnel appears to be a fairly faithful rendition of his personality, and his strengths and foibles.

At the start of Books Do Furnish a Room we discover that narrator Nick Jenkins is writing a study of Robert Burton author of "The Anatomy of Melancholy", which was first published in 1621. I had never heard of Burton, or his book, but was inspired to find out more. The full title of The Anatomy of Melancholy is"The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up" which I think gives a good indication of what the reader might expect. Nick Jenkins makes numerous small references to Burton throughout this volume which doubtless adds yet another layer of enjoyment for Robert Burtonaficionados.

After the formality of the war years, Books Do Furnish a Roomcontains more humour and Anthony Powell seems to consciously add in more comedy including one of the most funniest accounts of a funeral I have ever read.

Pamela Flitton, who we first encounter in The Military Philosophers, continues to live up to her billing as the ultimate femme fatale and, once again, wreaks havoc. She is a wonderful literary creation. 

Meanwhile, our narrator, Nick Jenkins, now in middle age returns to both his university and his school in this volume which provokes reacquaintance with some old characters, and reflections on his younger self. 

As with previous volumes, this book is funny, wise, compelling and addictive. Taken as a whole, A Dance to the Music of Time is really something special. Now, with only two volumes left to read, my heart is heavy at the prospect of finishing this magnificent work of literature. It is one of the best things I have ever read and I will be revisiting these books again.

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