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hearingsecretharmonies

So here we are, it’s almost Christmas and I have finished reading the final book in Anthony Powell’s twelve novel sequence; Dance to the Music of Time, which I had challenged myself to read during 2014.

It is approximately ten years since we last saw Nick Jenkins, Lord Widmerpool et al, and as Hearing Secret Harmonies opens there is a very definite seventies feel to the world we find ourselves in. I was almost immediately reminded of Iris Murdoch’s novel Message to the Planet. As the novel opens, Nick and his wife Isobel are playing host to their niece Fiona Cutts and her friends, having agreed to allow the temporary parking of a caravan on their land. Fiona has joined up with a rather peculiar group, a hippy kind of cult by all accounts led by charismatic Scorpio Murtlock. The group; Murtlock, Barnabas Henderson, Rusty and Fiona are taken crayfish fishing by the Jenkins’ and learn something about the mysterious Devil’s Fingers standing stones nearby, in which Murtlock seems to take particular interest. Nick finds other members of the family know all about Fiona and Murtlock, and waste no time in filling him in on the gossip.

“Blanchie says Fiona’s turned over a new leaf under the influence of this new man, Scorp Murtlock. Sober, honest, and an early riser, not to mention meditations. No hint of a drug. It’s a kind of cult. Religious almost. Harmony’s the great thing. They have a special greeting they give one another. I don’t remember the exact words. Quite impressive. They don’t wash much, but then none of the Cutts family ever did much washing”

Watching the news Nick discovers Widmerpool has been appointed chancellor of a new university, where he is pelted with paint by Amanda and Belinda; the twin daughters of JG Quiggin and Ada Leintwardine. This oddly enough leads to a strange kind of association between Widmerpool and the twins, which is memorably demonstrated at a literary dinner – to which Widmerpool has been invited, the dinner is to present the Donners Memorial Prize for biography. The prize has been awarded to Russell Gwinnett for his book about X Trapnel, who was once the lover of Widmerpool’s deceased wife.

Widmerpool has been the most extraordinary larger than life character, and for most of this series he has been a rather awful, practically malevolent figure. However here in the winter of his life, he becomes rather ludicrous – so much so I began to question whether or not his descent into peculiar obsession with the counter-culture group led by Murtlock, was actually not rather out of character. Widmerpool’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic; he takes to signing himself Ken Widmerpool and insisting that people drop his title Lord. Widmerpool embraces the very peculiar sounding rites that Murtlock’s cult has adopted and is now more likely to be found running naked through the woods at four in the morning, than in the House of Lords.

At Sebastian Cutts’ wedding Fiona turns up newly married to Russell Gwinett, and Nick discovers that the bride’s grandfather was at school with him and Widmerpool, a few years older, and that it was Widmerpool who had been responsible for getting him expelled. As the reception gets underway with guests galore from Nick’s past including Flavia Wisebite, Bob Duport his daughter Polly and former wife Jean Flores (who Nick once loved in his long ago youth) – Widmerpool turns up, bizarrely leading the Murtlock group in a run. Widmerpool decides he wants to take the opportunity to make amends to Sir Bertram Ackworth for the part he played in his expulsion fifty years earlier. Nick is astounded to discover Bithel – whom he and Widmerpool knew during the war – to be a part of this cult, and quite a devoted follower it seems.

Powell packs a lot in to this last novel, and in the final chapter there is a feeling of looking back and of things slowing down and coming to a natural conclusion. Just as the first book starts with images of workmen and bonfires recalling scenes from Poussin’s painting, so this one ends with similar images.

I feel as if I have rather rushed through this review, not quite knowing which bits to talk about and what to leave out. This novel feels really rather different to many of the books that came before, as I said at the beginning I think it’s a little more Murdoch than Powell in many ways. Certainly Powell has allowed the times in which he was living to creep into the narrative maybe that helps the feeling of time having moved on, the dance continuing for the next generation.

Thinking about the entire ‘Dance’, it has been a brilliant reading experience. True, Powell is not easy, there have been moments of ambiguity along the way, paragraphs of real complexity – however, the whole is just an astonishing work. The novels span fifty years, and were written by Powell over a twenty year period, they capture a section of British society during peacetime and war and times of social change. I am so very glad that I read ‘Dance’ – many of the people and images from these novels will stay with me for some time. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a reading challenge it fits perfectly into a year, and Powell’s writing is simply brilliant.

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booksdofurnisharoom

Books Do Furnish a Room, is the first book in the last movement of Anthony Powell’s twelve novel sequence, the tenth book overall. As we enter the dance’s winter movement; Nick Jenkins  is now a middle aged man. In this fabulously titled novel, Anthony Powell explores the literary world of the mid to late 1940’s.

One of the things I noticed about this novel is due perhaps to the time in which Powell was writing. The first novel, A Question of Upbringing was published in 1951, this novel published twenty years later. In those early novels, Powell sometimes masks some aspects of his characters behaviour in a slight fog of ambiguity. In this novel, although Anthony Powell’s superb style remains largely unchanged, there is a slightly more modern feel in how Anthony Powell refers to matters of a slightly unsavoury or sexual nature.

The novel opens very soon after the end of the war – the last novel ended with Nick Jenkins’ demobilisation. Nick at the age of forty, returns to his university library to do some research for a biography he is writing. Here he meets Sillery again; the manipulative old don who Jenkins and his friends all encountered as young men.

“To enter Sillery’s sitting room after twenty years was to drive a relatively deep fissure through variegated seams of Time. The faintly laundry-cupboard odour, as one came through the door, generated in turn the taste of the rock-buns dispensed at those tea parties, their gritty indeterminate flavour once more dehydrating the palate. The props round about designed for Sillery’s nightly performance remained almost entirely unaltered. Eroded loose-covers of immemorially springless armchairs still precariously endured; wide perforations frayed long since in the stretch of carpet before the door, only a trifle more hazardous to the unwary walker. As might be expected, the framed photographs of jaunty young men had appreciably increased, several of the new arrivals in uniform, one in a turban, two or three American.”

Sillery is now nearing eighty and has a new secretary, Ada Leintwardine who has been tasked with writing up Sillery’s diaries. Ada however has her own literary ambitions. Quiggin, a former writer, has now set up his own publishing house with Howard Craggs. The rather fabulous title of this book, is taken from the character of Bagshaw, nicknamed ‘books do furnish a room Bagshaw’ sometimes merely referred to as ‘books’. Bagshaw is to be the editor of Fission a new literary magazine to be brought out by publishers Craggs and Quiggin.

Jenkins brother in law Erridge dies suddenly and at Erridge’s funeral – to which Widmerpool and his unlikely wife arrive late in company of Lady Craggs; who turns out to be none other than Gypsy Jones – Quiggin offers Nick a position at the magazine. Pamela Widmerpool causes some disturbance by apparently becoming unwell, which causes a fair bit of speculation. At the party to launch the new magazine, Jenkins meets the writer X Trapnel, the Widmerpools are also in attendance, and Trapnel obviously dislikes Widmerpool although is immediately taken with Pamela.

Trapnel wanted, among other things, to be a writer, a dandy, a lover, a comrade, an eccentric, a sage, a virtuoso, a good chap, a man of honour, a hard case, a spendthrift, an opportunist, a raisonneur; to be very rich, to be very poor, to possess a thousand mistresses, to win the heart of one love to whom he was ever faithful, to be on the best of terms with all men, to avenge savagely the lightest affront, to live to a hundred full of years and honour, to die young and unknown but recognized the following day as the most neglected genius of the age.”

Trapnel, a wonderful Powell creation, has been writing a novel for two years, frequently reviews books for Fission, and it is during this period that Jenkins is drawn into his world. Ada, Sillery’s secretary is involved with the magazine too, and Widmerpool is one of the investors, as ever the world in which Jenkins moves is one in which old friends and lovers are never far away.

Widmerpool’s relationship with Pamela remains every bit as unlikely as it seemed at the end of the last novel when the two became unexpectedly engaged. Widmerpool seems to have a determination to keep hold of Pamela, no matter what she does, and she certainly gives him cause to regret his marriage, this determination of Widmerpool’s is quite unnerving. I think the older Widmerpool gets the more repellent he becomes. Widmerpool is now an M.P – as is another of Jenkins’ brothers-in law- Roddy Cutts married to Susan Tolland. At a lunch with Roddy at the House of Commons, Nick and Roddy run into Widmerpool, and return with him to the flat he shares with Pamela. Here the break down in the Widmerpool marriage becomes all too apparent as someone comes to the door with a message that Pamela has left her husband for Trapnel. Pamela is portrayed by Powell as flighty certainly – her behaviour is often exasperating, but also rather oddly (and perhaps typically for the times) as frigid. I’m not sure what if anything this says about Powell’s attitude to promiscuous women, maybe nothing; however it seems a shame that Pamela can’t simply be a bit of a tart, without also having ‘sexual issues’.

Widmerpool initially reacts oddly, pretending unconcern and that Pamela’s eccentricity in wandering off from time to time is well known, that she will soon be back, it is a performance that those who really know the couple don’t believe for a minute. Pamela’s relationship with Trapnel is no more convincing than her relationship with her husband. However Widmerpool’s confidence that she will return to him is borne out by the end of the novel. Trapnel is soon also abandoned by Pamela, but not before she takes her anger out on his precious manuscript – (reason enough for the reader to loathe her).

As the novel ends, Nick travels to his old school to enrol his own son, and here meets his old house-master Le Bas – who is even older than Sillery, and seeing out his retirement in the school library.

So only two of these left, goodness how time flies.

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thevalleyofbones

The Valley of Bones is the seventh book in Anthony Powell’s epic twelve novel sequence. With this novel, Powell leaves behind the familiar London streets, the society of large houses and clubs that in the previous six novels we spent so much time. War has come to Europe, and changed everything for many people. As the novel opens in 1940 we find Nicholas Jenkins a Second Lieutenant in Wales. Here we are introduced to a host of new characters including Jenkins’ commanding officer Captain Gwatkin and the alcoholic Lieutenant Bithel. Bithel is a particularly brilliantly drawn character, a figure whose totally inaccurate reputation has apparently preceded him, and to which Bithel himself cannot possibly live up to. Jenkins – considered to be getting on a bit in his mid-thirties, undergoes training in Wales, and along with his battalion colleagues endures the tedium of army life while waiting for military operations to begin. Powell portrays the everyday minutiae of army life, the pranks and squabbles that only momentarily distract these men forced to suddenly live together. This is a different kind of world for Jenkins, and one he manages to fit himself into rather well.

“I indicated that I wrote for the papers, not mentioning books because, if not specifically in your line, authorship is an embarrassing subject for all concerned. Besides, it never sounds like a serious occupation. Up to that moment, no one had pressed inquiries further than that, satisfied that journalism was a known form of keeping body and soul together, even if an esoteric one.”

Jenkins’ battalion is moved to Castlemallock in Ireland, where Captain Gwatkin makes a mistake during an exercise, and there’s an inspection by an absurdly young General Liddament who is hilariously more concerned with whether the men have had porridge for breakfast than with much else. Jenkins is sent to Aldershot to a training course, on route to the course, Nick meets and becomes friendly with David Pennistone – who he vaguely recognises from years earlier. At Aldershot Jenkins meets Odo Stevens, and Jimmy Brent – another figure from the past. Rather uncomfortably Jenkins is required to listen to Brent’s account of his affair with Jean Templer, in a scene reminiscent of a similar one between Jenkins and Duport in The Kindly Ones.

“Even when you have ceased to love someone, that does not necessarily bring an indifference to a past shared together. Besides, though love may die, vanity lives on timelessly. I knew that I must be prepared to hear things I should not like. Yet, although where unfaithfulness reigns, ignorance may be preferable to knowledge, at the same time, once knowledge is brutally born, exactitude is preferable to uncertainty.”

It is Odo Stevens who gives Jenkins a lift to the house of his sister in law Frederica Budd, where Nick’s heavily pregnant wife Isabel is staying. Here Nick is to spend the weekend before heading back to Ireland. Robert Tolland and Priscilla are also staying, and Stevens manages to make something of an impression on Priscilla. At Frederica’s house Jenkins meets other familiar faces, including Umfraville, and Buster who pitches up just as Robert receives news his leave has been cancelled.

Back in Ireland, Nick finds that Gwatkin has fallen for the charms of a local barmaid, who doesn’t appear to return his feelings. There is also something of a running battle going on between Bithel and Gwatkin – who is soon replaced. Jenkins is ordered to report to headquarters to meet the DAAG (a military acronym that remains meaningless to me) who naturally turns out to be an old friend.

As always I enjoyed my monthly portion of Anthony Powell, however of the seven I have read so far this is the one I liked least. Powell’s world is one I enjoy reading about, his writing is really excellent, the characterisation complex and endlessly fascinating. However all those new characters at the beginning, and the change of place unsettled me more than I had expected, mirroring perhaps the unsettling nature of the changes brought to people by the war. At the same time I am looking forward to discovering what will be next for Nick Jenkins and his friends, and now I have met these new characters at least they will be familiar should I encounter them again. I really found myself missing those familiar old London haunts of the previous novels. Powell remains endlessly readable however, and my reading of this novel may well have been affected by my extreme tiredness, which makes remembering new characters more of a challenge.

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the kindly ones

The Kindly Ones is the sixth book in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time sequence. It is now the late 1930’s, the possibility of war hangs over everyone– but this novel opens with reminiscence taking us right back to the dawn of WW1 and Jenkins’ boyhood. Nick and his family, as sister mother and father, lived then in a large colonial style bungalow on the Stonehurst estate – where they are assisted by three members of staff. It is the stories of these three rather odd characters that Jenkins recalls in the first long chapter of The Kindly Ones. Albert, who served as the family’s cook is remembered with some fondness, Billson the parlourmaid had a tendency to see ghosts while Bracey the family’s soldier-servant suffering some kind of depression was given to “funny days.” Bracey had romantic inclinations toward Billson who cast her own eye at Albert, though Albert had a young lady in Brighton, and with Bracey and Albert given to frequent fallings out it is these individuals who provide a good deal of fascination for the young Nick. On the day of the Sarajevo assassination Uncle Giles arrives unexpectedly and Albert gives notice. Albert announces he is to leave the family to marry his young lady, it necessarily causes great upset, especially in Billson – whose final breakdown in the sitting room as the Jenkins entertain General Conyers and his wife is remembered for years afterwards. I must admit to being rather sorry when I got to the end of this chapter – I could have happily read an entire novel about this collection of warring domestic eccentrics.

“Like one of the Stonehurst ‘ghosts,’ war towered by the bed when you awoke in the morning; unlike those more transient, more accommodating spectres, its tall form, so far from dissolving immediately, remained, on the contrary, a looming, menacing shape of ever greater height, ever thickening density. The grey, flickering sequences of the screen showed with increased persistence close-ups of stocky demagogues, fuming, gesticulating, stamping; oceans of raised forearms; steel-helmeted men trampling in column; armoured vehicles rumbling over the pavѐ of boulevards. Crisis was unremitting, cataclysm not long to be delayed.”

When we finally join Jenkins and his friends in the present – so to speak – it is still a year or so from the outbreak of war. Many men in expectation of the inevitable are already putting their names on reservist lists and joining territorial units. Nick and his wife Isobel are staying with the Morelands at their cottage near Stourwater, when they are invited to a dinner party by Sir Magnus Donners, with whom Matilda Moreland once had a relationship. Peter Templer, who is unaware that Jenkins had an affair with his sister, and whom Jenkins hasn’t seen in a while collects the couple and drives them to Stourwater. If the occasion wasn’t awkward enough, Donners decides he wants his guests to take part in a series of tableaux which he photographs depicting the seven deadly sins. Into this bizarre gathering walks Widmerpool – well of course he would – uniformed no less, to talk business with Donners.

In the coming year – as Europe moves closer to war – Nick’s Uncle Giles dies and Nick travels to the shabby seaside hotel where he died to wind up his affairs. The hotel is run by Albert – the Jenkins family cook from years earlier, and here too Jenkins encounters Bob Duport – who had been married to Jean Templer and who Nick finds it surprisingly painful still to talk with. Also resident at the hotel is the peculiar Dr Trelawney –another odd figure from Jenkins childhood. It should be no surprise that Jenkins keeps running into people from his past – as in this astonishing sequence of novels everything is linked– everyone is connected through someone and already the whole has the feeling of a continuous dance. Later in 1939 Nick – having neglected so far to do so, and being a tad on the old side – is desperately trying to get himself an army commission – and turns first to Widmerpool and later to Ted Jeavons‘s brother to help him.

So with the Kindly Ones – I am exactly halfway through the sequence – and still enjoying it very much indeed.

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casanovaschineserestaurant

The fifth book in Powell’s epic sequence opens as several others have done, with some reminiscence. Presumably during the Second World War our narrator Nick Jenkins considers the bombed out remains of a pub he once frequented, with a group of friends. However Nick’s memories do not yet take us to the war years, as he so often does, Powell plays around a little with time here. Returning to the late 1920’s early 1930’s Jenkins remembers the time when he first knew some musician acquaintances who he met in company with artists Barnby and Deacon who we first encountered in A Buyer’s Market. These remembered meetings of Jenkins, with Maclintick, Gossage, Carolo, Moreland and some others take place at this old pub; The Mortimer from where they once or twice decamped to the restaurant named in the title. The significance of these meetings is naturally returned to later in the novel, as one conversation in particular that took place at this time is destined to resonate strongly years later. This section of the novel brings us up to date in a sense, as Nick marries Isobel, an event that was imminent at the end of At Lady Molly’s.

As the story moves through the latter part of the 1930’s – Moreland who I’m sure we haven’t met before (can we ever be certain of this?) turns out to be one of Jenkins’ really good friends. Jenkins doesn’t reveal too much about his marriage to Isobel yet I get the impression that it is a happy union, despite the fact that Isobel suffers a miscarriage early in the novel. Moreland’s wife Matilda becomes something of a friend of Isobel’s after herself losing a child soon after birth. In the company of Moreland, Jenkins endures the uncomfortable association of Maclintick one of those acquaintances from the days of The Mortimer, and his wife, with their lodger; fellow musician Carolo. The Maclintick’s are infamous for their unhappy marriage, and Nick and Moreland have to endure dinner with them sniping at each other while Carolo sits in the corner of the room working away on his sheets of music.

The story of this instalment mainly concerns the marriages of the Morelands and the Maclintick’s – a subject no doubt dear to Jenkins’ own heart as he is fairly newly married himself. Although he never specifically tells us what he thinks about marriage as an institution himself,  while some of his friends are becoming disenchanted with the realities of marriage, Jenkins holds his peace. Widmerpool makes a brief appearance – as he seems always destined to do, still a rather ridiculous figure, one can never quite shake off that image of him in his peculiar coat, as seen by Jenkins through the fog while still a schoolboy.

“The meeting had, indeed taken place, Isobel had mentioned it. She had not cared for Widmerpool. That was one of the reasons why I had made no effort to keep in touch with him. In any case I should never have gone out of my way to seek him, knowing, as one does with certain people, that the rhythm of life would sooner or later be bound to bring us together again. However, I remembered that I owed him a meal. Guilt as to this unfulfilled obligation was strengthened by awareness that he was capable of complaining publicly that I never invited him in return.”

Stringham also pops up unexpectedly, now rather bizarrely living with Molly and Ted Jeavons, he turns up drunk at a reception given for Moreland. As the novel ends, one marriage is ended and with it comes a tragic death, another death is announced – and Moreland is briefly infatuated with a woman not his wife.

The brilliance of this sequence of novels lies in it being such a superb testament of the twentieth century. From the pathos of Nick’s Second World War reminiscence as the novel opens, to a London of the late 1930’s with occasional talk of war, while the Spanish Civil War tempts young idealists, like the utterly divine Erridge to join the fray. Anthony Powell’s writing is brilliant – the sense of time and place so absolutely spot on that the reader –(certainly this reader) feels a part of that world that Powell himself surely must have known. Everything seems to link together so beautifully, nothing is wasted; there is a point to everything, Powell of course and therefore we his readers understand just how everything is connected. I am really getting into my stride with this sequence now, I found Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, to be an extremely readable novel, and has made me look forward more than ever to the next book The Kindly Ones in June.

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Atladymollys

One of the things I love about these Anthony Powell novels that I have set myself the task of reading – is the way in which characters appear, fade out and re-appear in Nick Jenkins life; like residents of a small village passing and out of different entrances of their local pub. I now feel as if I am getting into my stride with Anthony Powell – or at least starting to – I like his world, a world of London streets and complicated families teetering on the edges of the British establishment. Bizarrely perhaps; it puts me rather in mind of the world of writer and director Stephen Poliakoff – whose work I absolutely love. I feel as if Poliakoff must have read Anthony Powell – I have no evidence for this; and I am probably wrong .

At Lady Molly’s is the fourth novel in Powell’s epic twelve novel sequence, and events have moved on two or three years since the close of the previous novel. It is now early 1934 and Nick Jenkins is approaching thirty, no longer in a relationship with Jean Templer; he has also left the publisher of art books he previously worked for. Now working as a screen writer for a film studio, and in the company of colleague Chips Lovell, Jenkins encounters General Conyers and his wife, who Nick remembers from his boyhood. Through them and at the home of Lady Molly, we are introduced to a host of new characters as well as some we already know, primarily of course Widmerpool. Much of this novel concerns the engagement of Widmerpool to Mrs Conyers much younger sister Mildred, a flighty woman several years older than her fiancée already twice married and with two adolescent sons. Nick is often bemused by Widmerpool, slightly fascinated by the effect he has on others, he can’t help but remember that peculiar unpopular boy from school sometimes.

“He suddenly began to look wretched, much as I had seen him look as a schoolboy: lonely: awkward: unpopular: odd; no longer the self-confident businessman into which he had grown. His face now brought back the days when one used to watch him plodding off through the drizzle to undertake the long, solitary runs across the dismal fields beyond the sewage farms: runs which were to train him for teams in which he was never included.”

The large aristocratic Tolland family are right at the heart of this novel, the young, Lord Warminster – known simply as Erridge – an eccentric bearded figure is living in the Tolland family ancestral home. Close to Thrubworth Park – live Quiggin and Mona. The shine seems to have come off their relationship since the days when Quiggin snatched the former model from under her husband Peter Templer nose. Invited for the weekend to the Quiggin home, Jenkins finds himself at a dinner at Thrubworth Park where he meets two of Erridge’s sisters (he has four or five). Immediately Jenkins decides he will marry the youngest sister Isobel.

“Would it be too explicit, too exaggerated, to say that I when I set eyes on Isobel Tolland I knew at once that I should marry her? Something like that is the truth; certainly nearer the truth than merely to record those vague, inchoate sentiments of interest of which I was so immediately conscious. It was as if I had known her for many years already; enjoyed happiness with her and suffered sadness. I was conscious of that, as of another life, nostalgically remembered.“

I found there to be less ambiguity in this novel than in the previous two – it is also slightly less comic. Although the evening Nick spends with Ted Jeavons, Lady Molly’s husband, at Dick Umfraville’s nightclub, where he is joined by particularly polished looked Peter Templer, and a (literally) jaundiced Widmerpool is brilliantly bizarre. This world we see through the eyes of Nick Jenkins of course, yet Jenkins himself remains remote, Jenkins is a nice young man, but I suspect he isn’t quite as fascinating as the people around him, or maybe that is just how he sees himself. Events in Europe are made just passing reference to, they don’t seem to loom too large in the lives of these characters, and as yet at least, we really don’t know how Jenkins himself feels about Hitler and his policies. Still I like Nick Jenkins, I find him a calm presence in a world of eccentrics – and I look forward to joining him at Cassanova’s Chinese Restaurant next month.

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acceptanceworld

The third instalment of Anthony Powell’s epic sequence sees Nick Jenkins struggling over the publication of an art book for which he is awaiting an introduction, due to be written by a well-known novelist St. John Clarke. As the novel opens Nick meets his Uncle Giles for tea –at the Ufford; a private hotel in Bayswater, whilst they take tea in the deserted lounge they are joined by an acquaintance of Uncle Giles, Mrs Myra Erdleigh who is persuaded to’ get out her cards’ and proceeds to tell their fortunes. Mrs Erdleigh proceeds to promise Nick that he will fall in love, and that the two of them shall meet again in a year’s time. She also predicts that Nick will be involved in a struggle involving one older and two younger men. All this of course sets the scene perfectly for all that follows.

As events move forward a year, Nick is thrown together again with old school friend Peter Templer, and his sister Jean who separated from her husband is living in London with her young child. Peter Templer is now married to a former artist’s model Mona. The art book remains unpublished, the introduction unwritten, and St. John Clarke has ridden himself of his secretary Mark Members and taken on instead Quiggin – both of whom Jenkins knew at the university and who each seem to be forever associated with the other in the minds of most people. Quiggin develops a proprietary jealousy over his position with St. Jon Clarke who he refers to as St.J, worrying that Members will somehow sneak back into his old position. However it seems St.J has turned Trotskyist and requires his secretary to hold the same political beliefs, so Quiggin too is eventually replaced.

Naturally drawn back to his old feelings for Jean, Nick takes full advantage of the hospitality of the Templers, although is puzzled by Mona’s apparent interest in Quiggin and the subsequent last minute invitation she extends him. There’s a wonderfully bizarre moment in Hyde Park when Jenkins and Members see St J. being pushed in a wheelchair by Quiggin accompanied by Mona Templer on a demonstration.

“Three persons immediately followed the group of notables with whom Sillery marched. At first, moving closely together through the mist, this trio seemed like a single grotesque three-headed animal, forming the figure-head of an ornamental car on the roundabout of a fair. As they jolted along, however, their separate entities became revealed, manifesting themselves as a figure in a wheeled chair, jointly pushed by a man and a woman. At first I could not believe my eyes, perhaps even wished to disbelieve them, because I allowed my attention to be distracted for a moment by Sillery’s voice shouting in high, almost jocular tones: ‘Abolish the Means Test!’ He had uttered this cry just as he came level with the place where Members and I stood; but he was too occupied with his own concerns to notice us there, although the park was almost empty.
Then I looked at the three other people, thinking I might find myself mistaken in what I had at first supposed. On the contrary, the earlier impression was correct. The figure in the wheeled chair was St. John Clarke. He was being propelled along the road, in unison, by Quiggin and Mona Templer.
‘My God’ said Members, quite quietly.”

During the constant round of social events that pepper the year, Jenkins does run into Mrs Erdleigh, about a year after they had first met. An old boys reunion, organised by former housemaster Le Bas at the Ritz, allows for Jenkins to meet up again with his and Templer’s other former schoolmate, Stringham, bringing those three young men who we first met in A Question of Upbringing back together again in their early thirties. Widmerpool plays a much smaller part in this novel – referred to just once or twice – he doesn’t appear in the flesh so to speak until the final chapter. Just as ambitious as ever; Widmerpool manages to have quite an effect upon the gathered guests at the Ritz, his presence as ever, slightly bizarre and quite humorous.

As I (and others) have said before – Powell’s writing is superb, he is a master of set pieces, his observation for people and social absurdities wonderfully acute. I enjoyed this latest instalment a lot – Jenkins remains a little at a distance – but Powell’s world is now really taking shape for me – and it’s a place I’m starting to like spending time.

anthonypowell

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