The Resolution Project Season Two: For my New Year’s resolution last year (2011), I decided to try and read all one hundred of the novels picked by Time Magazine as the best since their inception in 1923 to the list’s publication in 2005. I got almost halfway through. I’ve decided to bull-headedly push on through and try and finish the challenge, continuing with the same caveat as before: I’ve exempted myself from reading books I’ve already read, leaving eighty-six or so left to go. Some spoilers may lie ahead, so be warned if you’re the type to be bothered by that. It’s not really worth getting that angry about though.
“My mother – together with her sisters in their unmarried days – had always indulged a taste for investigation in the Unseen World, which even the threatened inconveniences of the Stonehurst ‘ghosts’ could not entirely quench. My father, not equally on terms with such hidden forces, was at the same time no less imbued with belief. In short, the ‘ghosts’ were an integral, an essential part of the house; indeed, its salient feature.” (p. 5)
The Elevator Pitch and What I knew going in: Second (sixth, actually) verse, same as the first. If you’ve been following along with my missives from the land of Widmerpool, Jenkins, et al., you’ll know what you’re getting into here. If not, Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time is a twelve-volume novel about various middle- and upper-class English people, with a time frame spanning from the 1920s all the way up to the beginning of the Second World War (so far). Nick Jenkins, a writer of … something, is ostensibly the main character, and each book chronicles his interactions with various sets of friends and acquaintances, usually with some overarching theme.
Thoughts: Where the last book, Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, dealt a lot with the world of feuding musicians and composers, this volume had the feeling of clearing the decks somewhat before WWII kicks off. The Kindly Ones, aka. the Furies of Roman mythology, were cthonic vengeance goddesses, who would pursue oathbreakers and the like. A few characters reach the end of their mortal coil in this volume, but the relatively light-hearted world of the Dance does not allow for sinners to suffer too much. I have a feeling that as the war progresses, this’ll change a lot. There’s definitely a feeling of the old guard getting tossed out in favour of the new this time out.
It was interesting to see Jenkins kind of take some initiative this time out, but as far as I can tell it’s only to save his own skin; he spends most of the book trying to secure a commission in the Army, which I feel is probably his way of avoiding the draft and attempting to get posted somewhere less dangerous? I don’t feel a lot of patriotic fervour coming from Jenkins, so I’m assuming he doesn’t want to haul ass and fight the Hun face to face. I guess I’ll find out next book what position he finds for himself.
While reading this latest entry, I began to long for a chart, or a set of family trees, something like that, to keep straight the sheer volume of characters in the saga. I don’t really know why it took me so long to break down and admit I need help keeping everyone straight, but a chart in the style of the ones you find while reading Love and Rockets would be really handy.
Actually, working my way through the L+R I had available to me when I worked at a comic store is probably one of the closest experiences I’ve had to reading A Dance to the Music of Time, except for the fact that I liked it much better. Its scope is as far-reaching, if not more so, and the characters found within are sketched out much better. I guess if I go with this hypothesis, this makes Widmerpool the Penny Century of the Dance world? Wealthy London industrialist Sir Magnus Donners is obviously H.R. Costigan in this scenario, and… No. This way lies madness.
“‘Why should we wish to ruminate on your most secret orgies?’ said Dr. Trelawney. ‘What profit for us to muse on your nights in the lupanar, your diabolical couplings with the brides of debauch, more culpable than those phantasms of the incubi that rack the dreams of young girls, or the libidinous gymnastics of the goat-god whose ice-cold sperm fathers monsters on writhing witches in coven?’” (p.194)
I liked the introduction of Doc Trelawney, a self-styled hedge wizard and cult leader in the style of an Aleister Crawley. There’s always been a bit of flirting around with mysticism in these books, but it was kind of nice to see someone go balls-out in its pursuance this time. There was a big section I skimmed over, though, where Jenkins reads his and his Uncle Giles’ horoscopes and then is amazed by how much they coincide with his own self-image. Dude, they’re written in a vague, yet reassuring, way for that very reason.
Anyway, this marks the halfway point in my reading of the Dance saga, and so far my rating is meh? It is a pretty impressive project, and it’s pretty amazing how Powell’s writing style evolves over the course of the books, but remains similar enough to the others that it’s never too jarring. Over all, I can’t really recommend this book on its own, but wouldn’t exactly warn you off attempting to read the series if it sounds like something you’re into.
“Just as most of the world find it on the whole unusual that anyone should be professionally occupied with the arts, Moreland could never get used to the fact that most people – in this particular case, Templer – lead lives in which the arts play no part whatsoever.” (p.103)
Similar books on the Time 100 list: Well, the other five books, A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, The Acceptance World (combined review of the first three here), At Lady Molly’s and Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant are pretty similar considering they’re all the same book. This volume reminded me a little bit of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, with a similar setting at the seaside for some of it, and similar attitude towards women in love.
Total pages read since January 1st 2011: 16964 pp. (2505 this year)
Total books on the Time 100 list read: 60/113, or 53% complete.
Next up on the Resolution Project: A House for Mr. Biswas, (1961) by V.S. Naipaul. Maybe even more for real this time.