Customer comments on this Youngstown Ohio Book
There are two hazards in reading Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (12 books in 4 volumes or "Movements). First, you may be too bored to continue (so buy only the first volume to start). "Nothing" happens in the first two volumes I've read. Fans of action, suspense, romance, light, or even historical novels may be most unhappy with this series. For the many characters living through the 1920's and '30's described in the first two movements, life is an endless round of parties and conversations over food, through which the characters, in ever mutating combinations, drift while insightfully discussing each other. In a sense this is high-brow and high-toned soap opera. Only in Book 6, as World War II impinges on the characters, does an outside structure of events impose itself on the actions and reactions of the characters. Previously they have seemed largely to float in an hermetically sealed world of university-educated gentlemen and their women (mothers, wives, and ex-wives). In this upper class void no chronological dates are supplied, although if you are an octogenerian the names dropped may supply a framework to the intricate sets of flashbacks and occasional anticipations Powell employs. We learn much about the main characters, but rarely see them at work or play, and never domestically or with children.
The second hazard is that you may be forever spoiled for reading anything less well crafted. The next author you read after Powell may seem shallow, simplistic, juvenile, obvious, crude, banal, overheated, or even vulgar. Powell's writing is objective, distanced, understated, intricate, subtle, acute, and highly precise; the apotheosis of ordinary detail. Powell's strength lies in closely observed and particularized character development, our understanding of each person altering slightly from one vignette, glimpse, or reference to the next. Allegedly a masterpiece of comedic writing, "Dance" is not, however, funny, farcical, or obviously, satirical. I really think it takes an English person to see and enjoy fully the comedy of manners I sense behind the prose. I felt I was always on the outside, vaguely aware that people might be not quite right, or "dotty," except for one passage in Book 5 where I laughed out loud. I probably need an "Annotated Powell."
You can see I'm deeply conflicted about this series: it is marvelously well-written yet I am not well entertained. An honest reviewer admitted that Powell "evokes a wry poetry from drabness and boredom." It took me 5 years to finish the first Movement, and dogged determination to read the next, and still I want to read one more! Just not immediately.
More of the greatest 20th Century English novel
_A Dance to the Music of Time_ is an extremely absorbing and well-crafted novel (composed of 12 smaller novels). Its subject is the decline of the English upper classes from the First World War to about 1970, a decline seen is inevitable and probably necessary, but somehow also regrettable.
Such a description might make the novel seem stuffy, but it is not. _A Dance to the Music of Time_ is at times very funny indeed, and always interesting. always involving. It features an enormous cast of characters, and Powell has the remarkable ability to make his characters memorable with the briefest of descriptions. In addition, Powell's prose is addictive: very characteristic, idiosyncratic, and elegant.
The long novel follows the life of the narrator, Nicholas Jenkins, from his time at Eton just after World War I to retirement in the English countryside in the late '60s. But Jenkins, though the narrator, is in many ways not the most important character. The comic villain Widmerpool, a creature of pure will, and awkward malevolence, is the other fulcrum around which the novel pivots.
This second volume of the University of Chicago's beautiful trade paperback editions features books 4, 5 and 6 of the novel series. _At Lady Molly's_ is centered around the eccentric title character and her parties, as well as such other characters as her eccentric husband, Ted Jeavons, and even Nick Jenkins' wife-to-be, Isobel. _Casanova's Chinese Restaurant_ opens with a bravura prose set-piece of flashback within flashback, and deals with Jenkins' great friend the composer Hugh Moreland, and with the tragically unhappily married critic Maclintick. The subject of the novel is marriage. The last novel in this book is _The Kindly Ones_, which deals with the coming of World War II. It begins with a flashback to 1914, as the First World War breaks out and impinges on Jenkins' childhood, then continues in the late '30s as Europe heads again into war.
One of the best novels written in English
This volume contains the second three novels of Anthony Powell's masterpiece, A Dance to the Music of Time. Readers coming to this series for the first time should start with the first volume. Powell's work is social comedy in the tradition of Jane Austen and George Meredith. Contemporary writers with whom he is often compared include Marcel Proust and Evelyn Waugh. The 12 short novels of A Dance to the Music of Time give a panoramic picture of English upper-class social life from 1921 to 1971 that is both intensely realistic and amazingly funny. Readers either love Powell's work or can't understand what others see in it. My own opinion is that Dance is the best novel written in the twentieth century. Others share this view: A Dance to the Music of Time is #43 on the recently constructed Random House/Modern Library 100 Best Poll (of twentieth century fiction) and was made into a 4-part miniseries on British television just about a year ago.