Timothy Hallinan's Reviews > A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
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May 07, 10

My favorite novel of the 20th century is probably Anthony Powell's twelve-volume marathon, A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME, written between 1951 and 1975. Supremely civilized, enormous in design, an unforgettable picture of a way of life (and a class) that were disappearing even when Powell was one of the "bright young people" who were so visible in the 1920s in London, the books that make up Dance are also very funny.

I first read DANCE when I was in my early thirties, and the story (in the first three books) of the friendship of three boys thrown together in school and the gradual dissolution of those friendships as the world calls the young men in different directions, meant a great deal to me at the time. I'd never read anything that seemed to speak so directly to my own life. This was emphasized by the loss, in the book, of one boy -- the most brilliant one -- into a life of drink and another into sexual dissipation that ruins his relationships and irremediably coarsens his character. I had watched several friends hit the rocks by that time and had sailed pretty close to them myself.

The remaining books chronicle the irresistible rise of the boy the others had scorned, the implacable Widmerpool, who amasses power almost as revenge for being unloved and unliked, and who demonstrates a resilience to humiliation -- even sexual humiliation -- that's almost mythical in scope. I think Widmerpool may be the fictional creation I most admire.

By the way, Powell's four-volume memoir, TO KEEP THE BALL ROLLING, also speaks to a level of civilization that seems today to be as lost to us as Atlantis.
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