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Hearing Secret Harmonies by Anthony Powell

Hearing Secret Harmonies

by Anthony Powell

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Showing 5 of 5
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. ( )
  arukiyomi | Feb 27, 2015 |
This is the twelfth and final novel in a sequence that I've been reading gradually over the last two years, and although I have loved the earlier ones and the way each successive novel builds on what's gone before, I was quite disappointed in this final installment. The grotesqueries and degradations of some of the characters' fates just seemed unnecessary and not consonant with their trajectories so far (though, when I think about it, I imagine that's how the sixties and seventies seemed to Powell's generation). ( )
  savoirfaire | Apr 6, 2013 |
Mainly concerned with the decline and fall of the awful Widmerpool and tying up the various threads in the finale of this unique and truly stupendous work. Having read the entire twelve volumes over a shortish period,I am amazed at the complexity and scope of 'A Dance to the Music of Time' and am full of admiration for the author. ( )
  devenish | Mar 27, 2013 |
With a few exceptions, I enjoyed the Dance volumes, but I always found beginning one something of a shock. The author tosses you into the action at a point far distant from where you were left in the last book. In Book 12, Nick Jenkins is by now a respected though minor author who seems to have settled gracefully into his years. [ Hearing secret harmonies] brings him into contact with several pieces of his past--young relatives, professional colleagues, old lovers. Hovering above all is the shadow of Widmerpool, Jenkins' contemporary, whose passage into age has been much less settled and whose life comes to a bizarre end as the book closes.

I've become more impressed with Powell's handling of his material over the series. The books seem to hang together awkwardly at times and frequently Powell doesn't tell you what you want to know. He uses Nick Jenkins as a camera lens and characters are swept in and out of his life in unpredictable patterns. It's not the way your ordinary novelist writes, but it is the way life happens. People come and go. Someone important to you at one stage of your life becomes a stranger later, or vice versa.

I'll miss The Dance and may, if I live long enough, read it again. ( )
1 vote Bjace | Jul 11, 2012 |
A triumphant resolution to Powell's outstanding twelve volume chronicle. Widmerpool is as odious as ever, though his immersion within a pseudo-religious cult definitely comes as a surprise. As ever we learn relatively little about Nick Jenkins, the narrator of this epic - throughout the sequence he has taken a back-seat role, always observing though never initiating the events unfolding around him.
Newly introduced in this volume is the sinister Scorpio Murtlock who has the ability to wreak havoc wherever he goes, and who is determined to become acquainted with Widmerpool for his own nefarious purposes.
All the old favourites are here: J G Quiggin, Mark Members, Matilda Donners, Norman Chandler and, briefly, Bithel, who had featured so humorously in "The Valley of Bones".
I don't think that this is the strongest novel in the sequence, though I presume that it must always be difficult to bring such a huge opus to a close. Powell certainly performs very well, tying up most of the long-running loose ends. I enjoyed re-reading this novel though, as always, I felt saddened to have completed it. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Nov 17, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0006142710, Paperback)

A Dance to the Music of Time – his brilliant 12-novel sequence, which chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England.

The novels follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles that stand between them and the “Acceptance World.”

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:38 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

It is the mid 1960s and many of the characters who have taken part in this vast panorama of modern life are either old or dead. Observed as always by Nicholas Jenkins, several of those who remain have begun to 'hear secret harmonies'. Notably, Widmerpool has abandoned the everyday worlds of politics and the City for others that offer different - though by no means less potent - areas of domination. The dance to the music of time is drawing to an end for Nicholas and his contemporaries, its sombre moments heightened by light hearted interludes.… (more)

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