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A Dance to the Music of Time: Third Movement, Autumn

by Anthony Powell

Series: A Dance to the Music of Time (Omnibus 7-9)

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7951220,137 (4.19)46
Anthony Powell's brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations. Volume 3 contains the seventh, eighth and ninth novel in the series- The Valley of Bones; The Soldier's Art; The Military Philosophers… (more)
  1. 01
    The Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh (thorold)
    thorold: Evelyn Waugh's Sword of honour trilogy covers much the same ground as the 3rd quarter of A dance to the music of time, based on their authors' experiences as slightly elderly and very unmilitary junior officers during World War II.

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The past, just as the present, had to be accepted for what it thought and what it was."

Volumes #7 to #9 of Powell's epic sequence are here collected: The Valley of Bones, The Soldier's Art and The Military Philosophers, which form his "War Trilogy". Here we follow the characters through both the light and dark days of World War II. Interestingly, in comparison to other great war novels of the time, we very rarely leave the British Isles.

I think these three books may be Powell's greatest achievement. Many of our beloved characters meet their demise; many others view the combat, and the endless rounds of death - whether armed or cowardly, long-foreshadowed by illness or the unexpected bombing of a nightclub - as yet more statistics, yet more heroics. Just more kindling for the fire. (From a year shadowed by the greatest pandemic in a century, I rather understand.)

On one level, Powell's sequence of 12 novels charts the demise of the British upper class (well, most of it; the very rich would of course emerge on an upward trajectory that would never end). On another level, this is a series about how we define ourselves in relation to culture, especially through our experiences with - or dismissal of - art and literature. Yet 12 novels on such a subject may seem extravagant and, perhaps mercifully, the author here subjugates both of those themes. They remain tangible, and occasionally dominant, but this really is a narrative about the strangeness of war and yet also the ordinariness of it, perhaps even the banality.

Powell has two strengths which may at first seem contradictory. Let's say that literary skill sits on a spectrum from "tiny details" (the miniaturists like Barbara Pym) at one end to "people and their relationships" (the storytellers like Dickens) to writers of "big ideas" (the novelists of grand scale like Salman Rushdie) at the other end. Powell isn't especially strong at the middle section; his characters' relationships are symbols, whether dysfunctional or completely functional; in the latter case, they barely need to be mentioned, as with Nick's wife Isobel. But the author is just grand the closer one gets to either end of the spectrum. The meticulous small moments, like a high-ranking military official fulminating on the lack of porridge, delight the reader page after page. And the astonishing sense of scope, the growing awareness that every character's destiny has been preordained and that the real protagonist of the story, somehow, is Time... well, that's where he really gets you.

There is an argument to be made that the final three novels are unable to recapture the grandness and generosity of these volumes. I'm quite sympathetic to that. But that's a discussion for another time. Here and now, even if only for readers who don't mind an incredibly lengthy narrative about people and customs long dead and buried, the artist is very much present. ( )
  therebelprince | Nov 15, 2020 |
The Valley of Bones:
It's a tailor's war
not for old duffers like Nick
he's a daddy now.

The Soldier's Art:
Bombs and bed-hopping
Nick's French costs him a new job
it's good to have friends.

The Military Philosophers:
The infamous Pam
breaker of powerful balls
Kenneth's perfect girl. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
(18) The third collection of 3 novels - Nick is now in the Army during WW2. These novels focus almost exclusively around army life and the characters he meets therein. It is not surprising that Nick doesn't see any action and is relagated to bureaucratic and diplomatic positions given his age and education. He starts out as a minor officer in an Infantry Division in the first novel, then gets transferred to 'Headquarters' where he becomes none other than Widmerpool's assistant. And finally, he is promoted and seems to be working with military attaches from other countries doing various things. Of course, during all these adventures his paths cross with all his old familiars. While Nick escapes unscathed, not so for many of the characters we have come to know.

I think this is my favorite of the collections so far. I was able to relate to even some of his most dense elegiac passages when he was musing on life (though I will never get all the literary allusions and have given up trying. . .) The subtle humor with the exquisite descriptions of individuals and their foibles is impressive - I loved the scene of the two colonels (the owl and the dog) exchanging conversation in the presence of the general at dinner. Powell conveyed such tension and rivalry with just the exchange of a few sentences about a glass of port. And Widmerpool is such a tool! His narcissism is both annoying and amusing. I have stopped wishing to get to know Isobel better and as I predicted, nary a word about the child. Even as a space of 6 years goes by during the War - Nick doesn't once mention his kids name!

These novels are not easy reads and not for everyone but I am thoroughly enjoying them now. As I am used to the authors style and turns of phrase now, it is not taking me as long to read them. They capture a generality regarding one's lived experiences with the passage of time and stages of life, as well as the particulars of upper class life during the early 20th century in England. ( )
  jhowell | Apr 7, 2020 |
The Valley of Bones

The Soldier's Art 4 stars

Sullen reverberations of one kind or another - blitz in England, withdrawal in Greece - had been providing the most recent noises-off in rehearsals that never seemed to end, breeding a wish that the billed performance would at last ring up its curtain, whatever form that took. However, the date of the opening night rested in hands other than our own; meanwhile nobody could doubt that more rehearsing, plenty more rehearsing, was going to be needed for a long time to come.

The book starts with Nick buying an army greatcoat at a shop that is a theatrical costumier as well as supplying uniforms, and throughout this book Nick sees himself as being in the wings rehearsing for a real part in the war, although he still posted to Northern Ireland in a port city that is regularly bombed. But when he is on leave in London during the Blitz, the reality of war its home when relatives and friends are killed in the bombing.

Nick is embarrassed when Stringham turns up as his mess waiter and is upset when his meddling leads Widmerpool to transfer him to a Mobile Laundry unit which is about to be sent abroad, although Widmerpool can't see what Nick is fussing about. Nick is finding army life dull and is chafing to get away from Widmerpool who is constantly scheming to get his own way over his rivals, but seems destined to being posted to another dull job at the Infantry Training Centre until he is sent a lifeline at the very end of the book.

The Military Philosophers ( )
  isabelx | Dec 29, 2015 |
I'm reading Anthony Powell's 12-book "A Dance to the Music of Time" this year, one book per month. This volume contains books seven, eight and nine, which I'm reading in July, August and September. I'm reviewing the books as I go.

I was disappointed with "The Valley of Bones," which was my least favorite of the series of so far. Our narrator, Nick Jenkins, is now in the Army at the start of World War II. I didn't find his Army buddies particularly interesting... the only bright spots of this book were his leave trip to visit his family and the ending, where he renews his association with the ever-present Widmerpool. Powell has was perhaps too successful in portraying Nick's boredom with his military "career" because I was bored with it as well. I'm hopeful the next installment will be more interesting. 3 stars.

I enjoyed "The Soldier's Art" much more than the previous installment, even though there was still a focus on World War II. I find I enjoy our narrator Nick much more at his dinner parties as opposed to his activities while soldiering. This installment takes place during the London Blitz, which has tragic consequences for a few of the characters. 4 stars.

I'll admit I've grown weary of the war years, so "The Military Philosophers" was a bit of a slog. The final 50 or so pages made up for it, even though several events were pretty well foreshadowed so it was easy to see them coming. Definitely not my favorite book in the series. 3 stars. ( )
  amerynth | Sep 21, 2014 |
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For Arthur and Rosemary
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Snow from yesterday's fall still lay in patches and the morning air was glacial.
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Omnibus volume of:

7 -- The Valley of Bones;
8 -- The Soldier’s Art; and
9 -- The Military Philosophers.

NOTE: The Simon Vance audiobook, combined here, is unabridged.
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Anthony Powell's brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations. Volume 3 contains the seventh, eighth and ninth novel in the series- The Valley of Bones; The Soldier's Art; The Military Philosophers

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