The writing is sublime and stands in such stark contrast to the squalidness of the tale itself that it actually makes it more difficult to read. A ver...moreThe writing is sublime and stands in such stark contrast to the squalidness of the tale itself that it actually makes it more difficult to read. A very dark, exquisitely written, novel, that I hope for your sake you will give a miss. But then, there is the prose, which is astoundingly good...oh, I don't know, you decide...(less)
Loved this. Wise, generous, funny and enormously encouraging. Like a much-needed pep talk from a trusted friend. Writing a novel? I can't see how you...moreLoved this. Wise, generous, funny and enormously encouraging. Like a much-needed pep talk from a trusted friend. Writing a novel? I can't see how you could fail to benefit from reading this. (less)
If you would like to join our GoodReads group BOOKS DO FURNISH A ROOM, then please come on down! As part of this project for 2012, I've written a blog...moreIf you would like to join our GoodReads group BOOKS DO FURNISH A ROOM, then please come on down! As part of this project for 2012, I've written a blog post about re-reading 'A Question of Upbringing' so if you'd like to read this review with the formatting and photo, then here is a link: http://wp.me/p2BcDB-dp )
LIKE BACH, ONLY WITH JOKES.
Having not done any of the background reading about Anthony Powell and A Dance to the Music that I promised myself I would have completed by now, I fear that everything I am about to say is going to turn out to be a hostage to fortune. However, consider if you will, the open sequence, in which a group of men cook kippers on a fire as they wait to start work:
"The men at work at the corner of the street had made a kind of camp for themselves, where, marked out by tripods hung with red hurricane-lamps, an abyss in the road [leading] down to a network of subterranean drain-pipes."
From this glimpse of a morning ritual, of spending together, before settling down to spend the time required of wage slaves, to the images of eternity carried by the snow on primeval fire, Powell sets out his stall of time in all her guises. He slides us back and forth in time, in the moment here, looking forward there, and then back again to the classical era. There are references to the time-passing of the seasons, the way evolutions crawls through time, time as it is measured, images of its accumulation in falling snow, and embers devoured, and the signatures it leaves on music, or the wisdom it offers through hindsight, the torment of regret, the notions of Halcyon school days, and the melancholic nostalgia that comes from having lived through enough of the stuff to finally realise you can only really appreciate what has gone on once it is all too late.
And, all of this, in about a thousand words. Not bad. Not bad at all.
If Powell had written this staggering opening at the end of the twelve novels, it might all be a bit easier to fathom. But to have been in possession of this level of overview at the outset of a twenty-four year project seems to me to border on the inhumanly clever.
Re-reading A Question of Upbringing with a gap of some twenty odd years, the thing which really jumped off the page at me was, how on earth did I not remember this as being significantly more brilliant? Why did I let quite so much time pass before picking up the thread and deciding to carry on with the rest of the novels in the Dance?
I suspect, hear again, the answer is time. For while I can clearly remember thinking it was very entertaining in its observations of character, it has taken me this long to develop both the reading skills, and life experience, to delve a little deeper.
Since the second most common word I associate with Dance is plot - and the worrying, alleged lack thereof - I suppose I came to this expecting it to be slightly hard work. Lately it feels I can barely get through a day without hearing someone say that writers must 'grab the reader' in the first page, and then cling to their bloodied throats throughout. So it turned out to be an almost paradoxical delight to be totally immersed in something relatively plot-less for a change.
If anything, it struck me that Powell didn’t even bother to entertain that lofty Flaubertien ideal of having no time for the lazy reader. His indifference is far more complete. Powell’s interest, or so it appears, are the English language, and how it can best be used to document his characters. This is English as a loupe, if you will.
The results are exquisite, leaving the reader feeling a bit indecent at times, the uninvited voyeuse at the party, thrilled to be turning pages. Plot or no plot, I gobbled it up. No shame whatsoever. For the reader-within, it is pure joy. For the writer, it’s like every sentence is a masterclass. I’m struck in particular at the dizzying array of lessons Powell serves up on characterization.
Fittingly, the first person we see through Jenkins’ eyes is Widmerpool, whom, we are told, “was known to go voluntarily for ‘a run’ by himself every afternoon”. How deft that one word, voluntarily. For it manages to be a stone lobbed in two directions at once. The first at Widmerpool’s disconcerting keenness, the second at Jenkins’ unforgiving nature (although what more could one ask for in a narrator). As will be alluded to more than once, Widmerpool is said to have 'made himself memorable' by wearing 'the wrong kind of overcoat'. Again, Powell uses a simple word, made to carry enormous narrative freight.
The second big entrance is reserved for Stringham, who doesn’t so much come onto Jenkins’ stage as, fittingly, the other way around. So that in our first sight of Stringham he is hunched over the grate in his study, cooking sausages for the tea.
"Without looking up, he said: ‘There is a jam crisis."
How perfect is that? Eleven words long, and simply by not looking up from his utter self-absorbed crisis, young Stringham is already giving Sebastian Flyte a run for his money.
Better still, if the spoilers I’ve read are to be trusted, both of these can safely be filed under start-as-we-mean-to-go-on. It’s probably too early for theorizing, but even having just read A Question of Upbringing, it’s hard not to wonder if there are signs of a descriptive thread developing. For someone who seems to have a rich visual memory, and to frequently describe the world in terms of paintings, Jenkins’ tends not to extend this classification to people. If anything, there is relatively little physical description of people, and not least when compared to other novels set in this period. Jenkins is not so much interested in how others appear, so much as in how they conduct themselves. It already feels very much a case of, in the world of A Dance to the Music of Time, character is as character does (or, sometimes, does not).
Or, have I got this completely wrong? Only more reading will tell.
A prediction which seems a safer bet, is that the rest of Dance will prove equally laden with wise, prescient observations on the structural flow of life, and how seemingly uneventful coincidences have a way of stacking up. I was particularly taken with this pearl, from just before Le Bas is about to reappear without warning on stage next to Jenkins.
"There are certain people who seem inextricably linked in life; so that meeting one acquaintance in the street means that a letter, without fail, will arrive in a day or two from an associate involuntarily harnessed to him, or her, in time."
It is impossible to say from this vantage point, but as we have now been told that it is going to be some time before Stringham reappears in Jenkins’ life, I am already very much, albeit somewhat irrationally, hoping his next reappearance will also be signalled by an appearance from Le Bas.
There were also one or two other surprises lying in wait during this re-reading. The first was that, having read warnings about how the prose tended towards the labyrinthine, I was expecting it to be, if not hard work, exactly, then improving, shall we say. While it is definitely this, A Question of Upbringing is also a remarkably easy read. It flew by, read in three short sittings. Yes, Anthony Powell’s sentences are longer than, say, Dan Brown’s. But there is something almost meditative about their rhythm. I can’t read Powell while answering email and watching Borgen, but once I gave myself over to it completely, I decided it was a bit like listening to Bach, but with jokes. Closing the book after a few hours I feel inspired and rested, and looking forward to more. (less)
I enjoyed this, and will certainly look for others by this author. As well as a story that carries you al...moreSPOILER possibility...proceed with caution...
I enjoyed this, and will certainly look for others by this author. As well as a story that carries you along, the writing is generously peppered with interesting observations and compelling description.
I've read other reviewer which comparing it to The Secret History, yet feeling let down when it fails to measure up as a campus novel. Not too sure where this could have arisen from, but it feels a bit unfair to me. I saw no signs that the author was attempting to retrace Donna Tartt's steps. This felt much more Barbara Vine to me, which is also excellent company to be in. The fact that the central characters happen to be students when the back-story begins is neither here nor there. They could just have easily been working in offices and/or theatres and events could have unfolded in much the same way.
So if you're after a campus novel, then this really isn't it. But if, like me, you've a soft spot for novels which are more squarely in that Vinesque territory, where a character with a secret past tries to gain greater insight into her role in terrible events from many years ago, and the way in which these events are suddenly a new threat to the life she's built from the ashes, then the Poison Tree does what it says on the tin.
There is also an ITV version, which, while also interesting in many ways, did not, in my view, really capture the most interesting elements of this novel. I had bought the book before seeing the TV version, so I then read it to compare the two. But if I hadn't already bought the book before seeing the TV version, I wouldn't have bothered, and this would have been a shame. The telly version stuck to the plot, and certainly tightened elements of it to make it into a far greater tragedy, yet simply did not have the time/space to fully mine the richness of the tragic love triangle(s) present in the novel.
However, there were things I personally found preposterous in the telly version (to give one example, without wishing to add spoilers, I will just say the NHS was actually already heavily computerised by '97). I was delighted to see that convincing groundwork had indeed been laid for these problems in the novel, and so they needn't have been in the TV version at all, had it not been for the need to fit something slightly more complex around ad breaks.
A tremendous, disturbing little novel about confronting and overcoming fear. In his introduction to this long-overdue rerelease, by freight books.co.u...moreA tremendous, disturbing little novel about confronting and overcoming fear. In his introduction to this long-overdue rerelease, by freight books.co.uk, Alan Warner points out that "Roald Dahl, summing up his favourite books of the year, wrote of it:
I got more pleasure from this slim volume than from all the fat novels of the last twelve months put together.
As, I hope, a soon-to-be-reader of this novel, you may encounter a little Joycean irony ( a character's name ) hidden within Dahl's praise."
I suspect Warner meant not only to point out the play on the character's name, but indeed his entire ethos. For unnerving as it is, just reading All The Little Animals leaves one feeling lighter, as though unneeded layers have been sliced through and stripped away. Harrowing, raw, poignant, poetic and brimming with humanity and road kill. I highly recommend a few hours in Bobby's company. You'll never forget him.(less)
To call this an easy read seems almost superfluous. It's an extended short- story which uses the tropes of courtroom drama to ask fascinating question...moreTo call this an easy read seems almost superfluous. It's an extended short- story which uses the tropes of courtroom drama to ask fascinating questions about recent German history and the effects that changing public attitudes can/should have on public prosecution. I don't feel i'm a particularly fast reader, but i read this in under two hours. The narrative focuses on Nazi war crimes, but as I was reading it, we currently have a range of public figures here in the UK potentially facing charges for events which took place in a different world: the 70s. It will be fascinating to see whether, as the Collini Case aska, it is the law or society who wins. I gave this three stars because SPOILER ALERT it felt to me that once the author had exhausted the legal question at the heart of the case he took the easy way out narratively. In a story where issues of right and wrong hang in the balance I felt each character should have been pushed to the limits of the consequences of FC's actions. I was left feeling dissatisfied, as though everyone was let off the hook...including me, the reader. (less)
A staggering read. Vital for anyone raising children, or whose work regularly brings them in contact with 'the public '. A lot of this is things we al...moreA staggering read. Vital for anyone raising children, or whose work regularly brings them in contact with 'the public '. A lot of this is things we all know instinctively, but it is unbelievably useful to see it all pulled together and analysed by a professional with unquestionable resources at his disposal. If you have ever been a victim of unwanted attention or a violent attack you will be amazed to see that it did not 'suddenly come out of nowhere'. Nothing is random. But ultimately, we are all much safer than we might think. The ultimate lesson is: Don't give in to fear, harness it.(less)
Exceptionally well done, but profoundly unsettling read. Not at all what I expected when I started reading. If paddling about in abject amorality is y...moreExceptionally well done, but profoundly unsettling read. Not at all what I expected when I started reading. If paddling about in abject amorality is your thing, then what a treat you have in store. (less)
I hesitated in my choice of star rating for this book. I would say I personally got 10 stars of value out of it. However, for a book about finding one...moreI hesitated in my choice of star rating for this book. I would say I personally got 10 stars of value out of it. However, for a book about finding one's focus it didn't half go on. It felt to me that the information conveyed in 253 pages could have been easily, and perhaps more usefully, condensed into half this number. It's all very folksy. If you are the sort of person who likes to have five examples illustrating the same point so you can get there yourself, then you will love this. Me, I just like to be told the point.
Having said this, I did find it to be the most useful of all the time management books/systems I've ever read about. Just reading some chapters made me feel more organised.
I'd definitely look for more of what Peter Bregman has to offer.(less)
A bravura performance, as ever. If you are remotely interested in literary propaganda during the Cold War, this book was written for you. Ditto if yo...more A bravura performance, as ever. If you are remotely interested in literary propaganda during the Cold War, this book was written for you. Ditto if you are even remotely interested in love, sex, the battles of the sexes, or random discussions about literary theory and what it is to read and/ or write. It's all here, wrapped up in glittery sentences and hilarious twists. I loved every page. (less)