Oct 2013 tbr And my October reading carries on apace, with the Barbara Pym reading project moving inexorably on through her published works in order of publication, and the end coming for my rather massive project re-reading Anthony Powell’s marvellous “Dance to the Music of Time”. All 12 volumes have been read by me and listened to by Matthew, and a few other people I know of have been reading along, on purpose with us or coincidentally, making it a community read of sorts!

The link between these two books? Apart from being by excellent but somewhat neglected mid-20th century writers, they both feature a section set in Italy where the characters combine and recombine with figures from the past.

Barbara Pym – “An Unsuitable Attachment”

(bought I know not when – some time between the late 1980s and the late 1990s)

Known as the book which was rejected by her loyal publishers, casting her out into the wilderness until her reputation was rescued by, among others, Philip Larkin, this is actually a bit flawed in my opinion, although do we see that with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder? It is still, of course, a marvellous read, because it’s a Pym novel, and the worst Pym novel is still a good novel!

Ianthe is the perfect Excellent Woman, living alone with her Good Furniture, while Sophie is one of those rather ineffectual vicar’s wives, full of the need to marry off her rather modern sister, Penelope. so why does Penelope, on the surface more attractive and sexy, flail and cry, while cool Ianthe seems to get all the men?

There are lovely portraits of librarians and library work (particularly my own old field, cataloguing, and yes, I’ve catalogued onto index cards in my time) and it is notable for appearances by Miss Bede, Esther Clovis, Father Thames, Everard Bone, Mildred, Digby Fox and Wilf Bason. This last gives it a valedictory air, somehow, even those these characters are older in other books we’ve read, although makes for a lot of fun for the committed Pym fan. The central romance, though, is where it falls down a bit: it’s unsatisfactory and sketchy and basically a bit implausible, with Pym better at writing a waspish male librarian than a modern young man doing some library work on the side, perhaps.

Oh, and the unsuitable attachment of the title? As the introduction and other commentators have mentioned, that is surely between Sophie and the beautifully drawn cat, Faustina!

Anthony Powell – “Dance to the Music of Time 4: Winter”

(2 May 2001)

Taking our stalwart narrator through his late 40s to late 60s, this set of books is bound to be somewhat elegaic and valedictory, although there’s still a lot going on, with the round of literary conferences taking up much of Nick’s time and enabling him to meet a revolving cast of old and new characters.

Characters from the earlier books are dispatched at a rather alarming rate, age-old situations are complicated or finally resolved, people fulfil their destinies in a multitude of ways, books are written, prizes are won, and Nick’s bete noir, Widmerpool, is threatened with his final downfall (there’s a lot to be discussed here – he tries to adapt with and reflect the age, where Nick essentially remains the same person, with the same kind of behaviour throughout; Widmerpool is always making himself overt and visible, whereas Nick is almost invisible – some value judgements going on there? Discuss).

This did, although with a lot of interest, feel like the weakest of his books; then, I can remember not liking volume 3 so much last time, so maybe you have passed the age of the characters to truly appreciate what Powell is saying. I found his attempts to engage with the modern world – with its Tshirts and computers – a little clumsy, especially in the final volume, which tries to work in the mysticism of the 60s (admittedly linking it to more esoteric characters found earlier in the volumes) and reminding me of Iris Murdoch’s flawed “The Message to the Planet” in this.

But in the end, it’s a great rounding off to a brilliant series of books (which have been with me since August – I wonder if I should have done the monthly thing that many people do, as it does seem I’ve read an awful LOT of Powell!) with some excellent and moving touches, such as Moreland’s over-nostalgic evening and the sudden reappearances of some characters.


What now? I’m reading the September-October Hardy Reading Challenge, the marvellous “Tess”, which I have somehow never read before (how?) – the thing about Hardy is that he’s so darn readable, isn’t he! I’m also wading through Edith Sitwell’s “English Eccentrics”, which might turn out to be more exciting in the anticipation than the reading. And I’ve been galloping through the TBR – watch out for this month’s update, and some exciting news (probably later on today).