Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Dance to the Music of Time

I started reading this mammoth tome years ago, inspired by its selection by the Big Fat Book Readers yahoogroup. I have read slower and slower, hating for the experience to end, but end it did while I was reading in the car waiting for The Younger Son to finish fencing. I feel less like I've finished a book and more like I'm having to move to a new home. Sad. Reading this was a transforming experience.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell is a 12-volume novel, one of the longest literary works ever written and perhaps the longest ever written in English. Time declared it one of the top 100 Novels since 1923 saying,
Beginning in the 1920's, A Dance to the Music of Time follows the lives of a group of English friends and acquaintances as they make their various ways through life: meeting and parting, succeeding and failing, loving and hating, living and dying. There is ample room for both comedy and tragedy in this capacious, large-hearted work, but Powell's real triumph is the way he catches the rhythm of fate itself...
The Atlantic has a wonderful article that appreciates the gift that this book is. From their article:
Dance deserves to endure, both because it gives a comprehensive and subtle picture of literary and artistic life in England throughout the first three quarters of this century and because it is a remarkable literary achievement in its own right.
NOW, there are a few amazing aspects to A Dance to the Music of Time. One is that the reader can get through twelve intricate, notably detailed novels about Jenkins's life without ever being told what Jenkins or his wife looks like, how many children they have, where they live, or anything of that sort....

And yet one is deep in the mind of the narrator
Dance doesn't exactly have a plot. Does one's own life have a plot? Well, neither does Nick Jenkins's. Thus somehow an entire level of the work in which fiction writers normally engage is just not there, rather the way gingerbread trim is missing from a Frank Lloyd Wright house--and who needs it? Dance is a structure pleasing for what it lacks as well as for what it contains.
There is an Anthony Powell Society. There are extensive resources here, including photographs and analysis.

I will miss spending time with this book. I look forward to reading it again some day.

The picture at the top of the post is from Wikipedia and is of Poussin's The Dance to the Music of Time.

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