A Dance to the Music of Time
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.