Two or three months ago I decided to re-read Anthony Powell’s A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME. I’d been meaning to do this for a while. I read the first two volumes in the mid 1970s and the other eight between August 1981 and August 1982. I know this because in those days I used to write my name and the date in books I had bought, a habit I rather wish I had kept up. The last volume was bought in George Ramsden’s bookshop in Camberwell Grove, which hasn’t existed for many years. Thoughts about the past did tend to occur while I was reading these books,because they are themselves reflections on the past. They are written in the first person from the viewpoint of someone we later guess to be around seventy and span around sixty years in all. They are roughly chronological, but the narrator roams around a fair bit too. They were an extraordinary undertaking, the first published in 1951 and the last in 1975.I found them funnier than I did the first time round. Maybe my own cast of mind has become more ironic over the years. I finished the last volume only yesterday and need time for them to settle in my mind. I don’t think these are great novels, quite, but they are very, very good and I read them avidly. Reading them one after the other I saw connections that I wouldn’t have spotted if I’d read them over the time scale in which they’d been published.They are in some ways more like real life than I had imagined, in other ways less. And this time round I was far more conscious of the sheer artistry and technical skill with which Powell manages the first person narration, which inevitably means that many of the most important events take place off stage and have to be reconstructed, some only hinted at but sometimes all the more effective for that.
It’s a long time since my last blog and I’m sorry for my unexplained absence. There’ve been a number of reasons. My lovely mother-in-law died in April. She was 97 and had had a wonderfully interesting and fulfilling life. She was a GP, qualifying before the war when few women went into medicine. She is sorely missed. And then I’ve been busy finishing a draft of a novel at the same time as I was getting ready to hand over my work as membership secretary of the CWA to my successor, Linda Stratmann at the end of May. That will, I hope, free up more time to blog – I aim to get back to once a week – but for a while there was a lot to do, packing up files, bringing Linda up to speed and generally trying to leave everything in good order. So, what have I been reading in the meantime? I’ll take me a while to catch up, but one thing I’ve been doing is reading and in some cases re-reading with much pleasure the crime novels of Magdalen Nabb, set in Florence and featuring the highly sympathetic Marshall Guarnaccia. I read the early ones in the 1980s and then rather lost touch. She wasn’t a very prolific writer. There are fourteen spanning 27 years and I think they are in some respects a little uneven in terms of plotting, though the skill with which she conjures up the atmosphere of Florence remains constant. She’s an elegant and classy writer. The best ones for me are the first one, DEATH OF AN ENGLISHMAN, THE MARSHALL AND THE MAD WOMAN, THE INNOCENT, SOME BITTER TASTE, and THE MARSHALL’S OWN CASE. The only one that I didn’t really like was THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE, based on a notorious series of real-life murders. Sadly there won’t be any more as she died in 2007. Soho Press have been reprinting them in attractive paperbacks and I do recommend them.