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BOOK FOUR (At Lady Molly's): We begin the 2nd Movement with the fourth book of 12. If you prefer to think of Anthony Powell's (rhymes with pole's, not towel's) masterpiece cycle in terms of months, 'At Lady Molly's' is April.
This novel, like most all of Powell's novels so far, brings in new characters, allows old characters to flow through, and generally pushes time forward a few years. I've heard many descriptions of Anthony Powell's narrative. Some describe it as a dance (obviously) that Powell choreographs. Some describe it as a symphony where themes and instruments appear, play their part, and remain silent for a couple minutes only to reappear in slightly different circumstances and dress.
I am reminded a bit of Degas' experimentations with monotypes. He loved to play with the process of printmaking. How the printmaking process could smudge and press his ideas with either dark fields or light fields. His images of people and landscapes would emerge out of darkness, smudged reflections would arrive from the plates. He would create multiple images from the same plate that would allow him to create ghost images. He would let the press express, through colored smudges, the idea of movement. I think Powell is playing with some of the same ideas. Through time and memory, faces blur, but the dance continues. People spin into focus, briefly, and then spin away. That is the cycle of life and relationships.
I also like the appearance early in this novel of Lord Alfred Warminster (or Erry, short for Erridge, or Alf). This character is largely based on George Orwell, a contemporary of Anthony Powell and classmate and friend from Eton, who operated in many of the same circles. Orwell and Powell were actually very close for several years, and Alf, seems to be Powell both celebrating Orwell and poking gentle fun at his talented, leftist friend. In fact, Powell and Orwell were so close that at Orwell's funeral in 1950 Powell was the one who selected the hymns. Reflecting on this Powell wrote:
"The Lesson was from Ecclesiastes, the grinders in the streets, the grasshopper a burden, the silver cord loosed, the wheel broken at the cistern. For some reason George Orwell's funeral service was one of the most harrowing I have ever attended."
Anyway, like Proust, it is easy to get caught up in the talk, the movement. Whereas reading Proust always reminded me of participating in a lucid dream, reading Powell seems more like being fairly toasted at a beautiful party or -- well -- a dance.
BOOK FIVE ('Casanova's Chinese Restaurant'): Powell's fifth book opens with a flashback to the late 20s, and a discussion about love, marriage, and suicide. The book processes through the challenging marriages of Hugh Moreland (composer friend) and Maclintick (music critic friend) and their two difficult marriages. St John Clarke dies Erridge (see Orwell) is back from Spain. Af far as plots go, like most of Powell's books, there really isn't much happening. A couple dinner. A couple parties. Memories and flashes of insight into friends and their motives. Art, music, writing is discussed at length. People die. If I was pitching it as a movie, it would be a difficult pitch, but it is beautiful, thoughtful, and gentle.
The entire novel reminds me of listening to the 3rd movement of Mahler's 5th symphony. Powell's prose just glides. As you are spinning though the chapters and scenes, Powell throws a couple prose flowers of truth at you, and you spin on. Faces are recognized, spin, and blur out. Themes emerge, crystalize, and disappear just as quick. Yet, at the very end, you also find a dark pull to the gravity of this novel. What you initially took for a carousel is actually a ghost railway, and all at once the reader is "slowly climbing sheer gradients, sweeping with frenzied speed into inky depths, turning blind corners from which black, gibbering bogeys leapt to attack, rushing headlong towards iron-studded doors, threatened by imminent collision, fingered by spectral hands, moving at last with dreadful, ever increasing momentum towards a shape that lay across the line."
BOOK SIX ('The Kindly Ones'): The clock is at 6pm. The series is half-way through. And war, war has just begun.
"The slayer of Osiris once again demands his grievous tribute of blood. The Angel of Death will ride the storm."
The novel begins with a flashback to the eve of the Great War. Nick is a kid watching the adults in his life adjust and move to the inevitability of war and the changes it will bring into all of their lives. The best scene in this is one where the household parlourmaid, Billson appears the family's formal dinner naked (and clearly having a moment) after finding out the man she loves will marry another woman.
We also have many great scenes with Dr. Trelawney. Trelawney is an occultist who seems to be largely drawn from Thelema founder Aleister Crowley (occult + drugs + asthma + relationship with Germany and British Secret Service). Anyway he is a fascinating character to include in this book. The occult, however, seems to fit this novel that deals with an almost anticipation of the great war against the Nazis, while also showcasing England's historical fascination with the weird and magical. It also fits the title, 'The Kindly Ones' which is an allusion to the Furies - The Eumenides - The Kindly Ones. According to Powell, in the beginning of this novel, 'The Kindly Ones' "inflicted the vengeance of the gods by bringing in their train war, pestilence, dissension on earth; torturing too, by the stings of conscience."
So a naked parlourmaid serves almost as an "infernal goddesses" portending the coming Great War. Later in the novel, we see other signs and portents (and an older, weaker, but still portending Dr. Trelawney) of another coming cataclysm (World War II) that is more felt and believed than understood. It seems at this point in the narrative inevitable (and for us with the virtue of looking back, obvious) that death and destruction will soon exact its vengeance on Nick and his friends, England, and the World. Everyone seems to be paralyzed by the realization that the fun times are slipping into the night, the storm approaches, and future for everyone is about to go to Hell.
"The god, Mars, approaches the earth to lay waste. Moreover, the future is ever the consequence of the past."
10 of 14 people found this review helpful
Having now listened to all 4 Movements, I have found the First And Second Movements to be my favourites. Simon Vance's voice is so 'just right' for our hero. I did take the time to locate the painting referred to in the title and yes, seeing a print of that helps me understand how Anthony Powell has structured his story. So here we have Summer, and the fullness of life. In this case slap in the middle of WW2. In this, it is from a personal perspective. No great heroism, no great mirror for morality, more the impact of war, the loss of old friends, the recognition of human ambition and frailty. Having said that, this story flows so naturally, personalities develop and relationships alter .
Yes I do think this is very good. In time I expect I will listen again and enjoy it as much as I have done now.
If you have enjoyed the First Movement, I expect you will this one, The Second Movement.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
To enjoy this next instalment of this loosely autobiographical novel (the narrator Nicholas Jenkins is reputed to be Powell) I think one needs to have listened to the First Movement where the main characters are introduced otherwise the nuances of the relationships will be lost. There's a lot of writing to evoke the era and the story moves slowly with many diversions to include a wealth of characters which, apparently, to those in know are based on real people, but many will now be unfamiliar to most of us. These many hours of listening in the Second Movement cover the inter-war years and the ups and downs of the people we met in the First Movement. I think there's an advantage to listening to this set of 12 books that together comprise the three Movements (9 parts in total as downloads) as one can be doing other things as the same time. I must admit that at times it was just verbal wall-paper keeping me company as I walked in the hills, but as the hours flow by I am getting more wrapped up in Nick and his associates lives.
The narrator is excellent and deserves a medal for the huge task of recording the whole series.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
enthralling, excellent for commuting. It spans a vast repertoire of behaviour with a light but piercing touch. Narrator excellent. The characters weave and interweave through time over decades.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful