Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Soldier's Art, The Military Philosophers

The Soldier's Art and The Military Philosophers are books 8 and 9 of Powell's Dance to the Music of Time.  Together with book 7, The Valley of Bones, they make up the third movement.  For the first two movements, I felt like the movement division was pretty arbitrary, but here it makes sense.  Books 7-9 feel like something of a whole, with a largely new cast of characters, and with the previous characters barely showing up.  (Kenneth Widmerpool is the big exception here).

The writing is great, as always, but the limitations of Jenkins as narrator are more apparent.  For whatever reason, Powell has chosen to make Jenkins an observer who is rarely (or never) introspective.  In these three books, something like half the cast of the previous novels gets written out in air raid attacks or are otherwise casualties of war.  But Jenkins never reacts to these events, and it feels like there's a big emotional hole in the novels.  I've remarked on this problem before, as well --  Nick sees Isobel, his wife, but tells us nothing about the visit; Nick becomes a father, but only in a throw-away aside.  It's almost as if Powell would have been better served by a third person narrator.

On the other hand, I felt like the characters and events are more incisively written than ever.  Jenkins's army companions are very distinctive, and get away from the round of bohemians and upper-class dinner parties that made up the first 6 novels in the cycle.

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