I first read Anthony's Powell's pseudo-autobiographical four-part epic when I was a graduate student in the 1980s. Audible recently released the entire cycle in audiobook format, read by the wonderful Simon Vance.
Each part, or movement, includes three books, and I talk about the first two parts (six books) in this post and will discuss the final parts in a few weeks.
The first two movements of Dance to the Music of Time follow the life of Nick Jenkins from his public school days in the 1920s to his carefree post-university life in London to the early years of his marriage on the brink of World War II. Nick's generation came of age in an England that was rapidly changing. In just over a decade social class divisions were breaking down, big households were no longer employing domestic servants, automobiles were becoming commonplace, and women were enjoying increased freedom.
Through Nick's eyes, we revisit the universal lessons of youth and can sympathize and empathize as he experiences first love and begins to understand that money and status do not necessarily bring happiness. Dance to the Music of Time is less about the plot and more about the people who appear and disappear and reappear in Nick's social circle and about the world of salons, musicians, writers, artists, and models of 1930s England.
As we read, we have the advantage over Nick in that we know what will happen to London in the 1940s. We cringe at the cavalier manner in which his friends embrace socialism and at the naivety of those who go to Spain to fight on side of the Fascists. Later, we want to tell Nick he should be thankful he might be too old to participate in the war against Hitler and he'd be better off moving to the country before the bombings begin.
If you are interested in England between the wars and vivid characterizations, the first two movements of Dance to the Music of Time are for you. If you need plenty of action and a clear and steady story line, you may find your mind wandering. For me, the second time through the books has been just as fascinating as my initial introduction to Nick Jenkins.
As I mentioned, Simon Vance is the narrator for the new Audible Inc. audio edition of the Anthony Powell books. He does a fantastic job guiding us through Nick's story.
The Dance to the Music of Time books have prompted much debate about which characters represent which of Powell's real-life friends and acquaintances. If you're curious, you can start with the Anthony Powell Society website, which includes synopses of the books and probable character identifications. My copies of the books have the covers shown here; newer editions have different cover art.
For the Audible edition, click on the image in the sidebar.
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