Since 2001, I've tried to read this novel every year -- usually sometime during the summer, since tha8th Annual Reading -- June, 2009!
Since 2001, I've tried to read this novel every year -- usually sometime during the summer, since that's around the time of year in which the novel takes place. This summer, however, I was tied up with Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time; so, I'm starting this (7th) Annual Reading a little late......more
Like most of Woolf's fiction -- the exception being To the Lighthouse and maybe Orlando -- this one gets better with each reread. This time was my thiLike most of Woolf's fiction -- the exception being To the Lighthouse and maybe Orlando -- this one gets better with each reread. This time was my third reading of the text, and as expected even more of Woolf's subtle nuances stood out. Written without any discernable plot and without any real form, Jacob's Room certainly isn't the best Woolf novel to cut your teeth on; but it you're looking for something different, something cerebral, and something unlike anything that was being published in the mid-20th Century, this novel just might leave you breathless....more
At times captivatingly beautiful, and at time maddeningly tedious, Hollinghurst's debut novel is about pre-AIDS, early-80's gay live in London. To beAt times captivatingly beautiful, and at time maddeningly tedious, Hollinghurst's debut novel is about pre-AIDS, early-80's gay live in London. To be expected, there's lots of sex. Most with underage boys or "exotic" black men. While it wasn't a horrible novel, overall it was a bit too obvious and typical for my tastes. Rich aristocratic British white male as protagonist? check! Love affair with servile, poor black man? check! Gay bashing at the hands of skinheads? check! Cruisy gym locker room? check!
However, the quasi-Dickensian (?) way in which everyone ties together at the end was interesting. But not quite worth the near-350 page buildup....more
A decent play dealing with British class structures of the mid-20th Century. Better known as Morrissey's source of inspiration for parts of "Reel ArounA decent play dealing with British class structures of the mid-20th Century. Better known as Morrissey's source of inspiration for parts of "Reel Around the Fountain."
'I dreamt about you last night And I fell out of bed twice.'...more
This contains the first three novels of Powell's cycle.
A Question of Upbringing -- 4 out of 5 stars. This first novel, of the overall twelve novels invThis contains the first three novels of Powell's cycle.
A Question of Upbringing -- 4 out of 5 stars. This first novel, of the overall twelve novels involved, comes across as little more than a high(er)-brow version of A Seperate Peace. And to me, that's not a bad thing. It's quite readable, if a bit dry in places, and manages itself very well.
It's essentially the first (230page) chapter of an overall novel that spans the life of the main character; so, this time is spent introducing the character, as well as detailing certain important bits of his adolescence and young adult life. Not much more. There are eleven more novels to fill in the rest. I think that's where most readers get annoyed. If one comes to each novel in this cycle, expecting a definite beginning/middle/end structure, they won't really find it. While each book is able to stand on its own, it's the entire cycle that is meant to be read as one single (very long) novel.
A Buyer's Market -- 4/5 stars A bit more involved and engaging than the first novel. This second novel finds the main character (and subsequent supporting characters) a few years older, and not much wiser. They've now finished with University and are starting to make their first appearances in the London social scene. That's about it for this one -- as with the previous novel, this one follows episode after episode of Jenkins' young adult life, but only going from one social episode to the next -- one party or weekend outing after another. One character is introduced in the first chapter, dead in the last chapter. There's a questionable abortion -- questionable in that it might have been a scheme for money. Homoerotic overtone, heteroerotic overtones -- it's all here. Just as in life.
The Acceptance World -- 5/5 stars The first two novels set everything up -- the major characters, themes, motifs, history, mythology, etc. And now, Powell starts to get into the beginning of the heart of the narrative. The characters are now taking jobs, marrying, having affairs, divorcing, becoming drunks, becoming major players in society, becoming social revolutionaries -- in part, they're growing older and finally interacting with the world around them. I'm quick to write this one off as the best novel of the three collected in this first volume, but I'm not sure if it's because it actually is the best of the three or because I've become familiar with all of the main characters and have become interested in their lives and interactions.
Starting 7/1/08, I'm giving myself one year to make it through Powell's cycle. We'll see how it goes......more
At Lady Molly's -- 3/5 The growing pains of adulthood are over, and the characters have settled into life a bit moNovels 4-6 of Powell's overall twelve
At Lady Molly's -- 3/5 The growing pains of adulthood are over, and the characters have settled into life a bit more comfortably. Templer and Stringham have been reduced to occasional cameos and background figures; Members and Quiggin have taken their respective places as sidekicks. And Widmerpool has evolved in Jenkins' thematic counterpoint -- fate vs. will.
This one started out sloooooooowly. Drawing room discussions about the grumblings of the growing dissent in pre-WWII eastern Europe, psychoanalysis, Communism, anti-Fascism -- all within the first 100 pages. There's even a brief discussion of Woolf's recently published Orlando. But the second half fared much better -- engagements made, engagements broken off; affairs ended, affairs began; old characters popping up in unlikely places.
Uneven, to be sure, but the second half was enjoyable enough to make up for having to slog through the first half.
Casanova's Chinese Restaurant -- 4/5 This one started out almost as slow as the previous novel, but also started out quite differently from any of the others (so far). Up to this point, all of the novels have followed a straightforward, chronological order; this fifth installment, however, starts at a time somewhere between the second and third novels. Memory is oft-times faulty and doesn't always follow a linear, chronological path -- so why should these novels be expected to.
And much like the last novel, this novel (once it jumps ahead to the current point in the story) finds the characters even older and dealing with a world that is growing older with them. There are marriages, affairs, miscarriages, death, suicide, a quick descent into alchoholism -- all in the ever-growing shadow of the looming Nazi uprising.
I enjoyed this one more than the previous installment. It started out slow and tedious, but (much like with the last novel) the last two chapters more than made up for the first two.
The Kindly Ones -- 5/5 Yet another fantastic third-book from Powell's arch.
Starting out with another strange shift, the novel begins with a scene from Jenkins' childhood. Jenkins' parents and early home life are fleshed out a bit, and we're introduced to the messiah-in-waiting of Dr. Trelawney. Once the narrative shifts back to the current point, the story really soars. The plot continues to move forward -- a major-ish character dies, marriages are ended, babies are made, war finally begins to break out; however the novel also acts as a recap for everything that has happened up to this halfway point -- every character is at least heard from/about if they aren't actually seen, and previous events begin to tie in together and connect. Powell continually looks backwards as he moves the reader forwards. So far, this has been my favorite novel of the bunch. But once again, I'm left wondering if it has to do with the actual strength of the novel itself, or if it simply has to do with how well Powell brings everything together and justifies the previous five novels....more
The Valley of Bones -- 3/5 It took me some time to get into reading this one. Partly due to it being a war novel, aNovels 7-9 of Powell's overall twelve
The Valley of Bones -- 3/5 It took me some time to get into reading this one. Partly due to it being a war novel, and my dislike of/disinterest in war novels. And partly due to a near-complete reboot of characters. After six novels of getting to know all of the characters of Jenkins' aristocratic world, Powell replaces all of them with the new characters of Jenkins' military career. As I said, it took some time to get used to these new characters and to care about them in any way; but in true Powell fashion, nearly every character is memorable and by the end of the novel, the reader is left wanting to know more about them all.
The Soldier's Art -- 3/5 Good. God. Damn. I finally made it through this one.
Much like the last novel, this one was a chore for me to get through. I don't care about military history, and as such I really don't care about British military history. I don't know what 'DAAG's and 'DAPM's are, I don't know what 'A & Q' is, I don't know exactly what the Mobile Laundry is or why it's the spot to send all the rejects -- and I don't fucking care that I don't know it. But, in order to move through the story, I had to drag myself along through 150pgs of it all. It's part of the overall narrative, and part of the development of Jenkins as a character, but it's nowhere near as engaging as the first six novels. However, the middle 80pgs (roughly) of the novel are. When Jenkins returns to London, on leave, some of the old characters are seen again, and it's like welcoming back old friends. Friends who are far more lively than the military lot. But, that's all over soon enough, and we're plunged back into the Divisions. Oh well...
The Military Philosophers -- 3/5 Yet another war novel, but thankfully Jenkins has been removed from the cavalry and placed (slightly) behind the scenes. Instead of infantry training and field maneuvers, he's now serving as go-between to the Polish army, and later to the Belgians. Stringham and Templer don't make it through this one, but Stringham's niece -- Pamela -- pops up to take one of the empty spaces.
As with the other two novels in this 'trilogy', the parts dealing with the war were a struggle; while the sections where Jenkins was back in London, amongst the life he left behind when he joined the military, were the definite highpoints....more
The final set of three, from Powell's overall twelve.
Books Do Furnish a Room -- 5/5 I don't know if it was simply because the 'war books' are over andThe final set of three, from Powell's overall twelve.
Books Do Furnish a Room -- 5/5 I don't know if it was simply because the 'war books' are over and done, or because it really was a strong read -- but this has been one of my favorite of the series. Yet, it took me more than twice my normal time to get through with it. I don't know why. I guess I had to ease back into Powell's rhythm.
Temporary Kings -- 5/5 The Dance is drawing to a close, and only the stragglers are left behind....well, and the drunks.
Much like the last novel, I enjoyed this one immensely even if I did tend to slog through it. There's a part of me that doesn't want to finish the cycle; I don't want it to end. Even though there have been about 300 characters coming in and going out of the narrative, they're all fairly memorable and unique. It's been a long time since I've had such a reading experience. But I digress...
Unlike the other novels thus far, Powell brings in a bit of the fantastic (or "surreal" if you will) to this one. Characters begin to resemble ancient paintings, mysticism rears its whithered head, and the ghost of Trapnel looms ominously. Yes, Trapnel is dead. Moreland is dead. And it's hinted that Pamela Widmerpool swallows a handful of pills and ODs.
The end is near. Hopefully the obvious showdown between Jenkins and Widmerpool will be worth the price of admission.
Hearing Secret Harmonies -- 4/5 Banquet dinners, Literary Awards, proto-punk political dissent, necrophilia, mysticism, Manson Family-like cults...the times, they have a-changed. With the dance over, the elders return home while the youth take out to the night.
I was bit disappointed that Jenkins and Widmerpool didn't have the hoped-for final showdown; regardless, this final volume was one of the most fun to read. Like all them, it had it's incredibly slow, seemingly pointless moments, but they can easily be overlooked when regarding the novel as a whole.
1.) Much like one's own life, this cycle is a trifle uneven -- but no one's life (especially when considering a fifty-year span of it) is entirely exciting or entirely dull; rather, one's life is a continual ebb and flow of experiences, emotions, and lackthereof.
2.) If more people were blessed with Powell's gift for characterization, I think people would be far more eager to read and to stay reading. There are well over 300 different characters encountered across the twelve novels, and somehow Powell makes the reader remember most (if not all) of them. Even if I never read these books again, I think I will always remember some of these characters as fondly as actual people I have known.
3.) I could spend the rest of my life rereading these novels, and still never understand everything that Powell has expertly pulled off within them. Historical references, mythological references, religious references, literary references, dramatic, artistic, scientific, military -- his novels are saturated with them.
4.) While it can be a bit dry at times, Powell's writing is never dull. Twelve novels (over 3000pgs total) seems like a daunting task for a reader, and they certainly would have been had they not been written in so readable a matter. The New York Times might refer to this quality as "unputdownable" -- I know I would....more