0476 | ADMT XII: Hearing Secret Harmonies | Anthony Powell


And so it ends; the final volume in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time is complete exactly 365 days after I started it. Was it worth it. Yes, I’d say so. Did I love it. No, not really.

The book ends with some quite esoteric encounters with what can only be described as a cult. A collection of vagabond hippies have found inspiration in a collection of pagan rituals based on the life and work of the long deceased Dr Trelawney. Somewhat surprisingly, this cult enfolds one of the key characters and leads to his demise.

Nick meanwhile lives on some vast estate somewhere from which he occasionally ventures forth to provide opinion on literary prize-givings and other artistic comment. Again, we end the novel knowing little about him while discovering all sorts about everyone else.

The novel as a whole is definitely a good book, but I feel that it has become dated; I found the very medium that Powell uses of the narrator Nick Jenkins to be frustrating and shallow.

So, why dated? Well, Powell the book spans 50 years from the 1920s and the spirit of the age is captured marvellously along the way. There’s a real feel that Time is indeed the Music that the characters Dance to. It’s very evocative of every decade it works through and I loved the attention to this detail that Powell puts in each volume, in what are, in effect, individually relatively short novels.

The problem though is with the characters themselves. I guess Powell himself was a stuck up toff and this comes through from the very first volume at a grim boarding school, right through the sequestered commissioned ranks of officers in the war through to the echelons of the literary elite in Hearing Secret Harmonies. I don’t think there was a single character that I really liked. They all seemed completely engrossed in their own petty affairs, none of which made any difference at all to the real world.

Sure, some of them were artists and writers, but their books and paintings are almost deliberately obscure and aloof. Curiously, those two adjectives perfectly describe Nick Jenkins. Apparently he got married along the way and, I think, had a child or two but you’d never know it. He speaks at length about everyone he knows and even makes vast suppositions about those he has the briefest encounters with. But you learn almost nothing at all about his life. This seems a ridiculous oversight for such a talented writer. Did he do it on purpose then? Maybe. But if so, big deal. It doesn’t work for me.


Duck, flying in from the south, ignored four or five ponderous explosions over at the quarry.


This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show

PROGRESS hearingp
RATING dancer
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style

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