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

by Anthony Powell

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8941624,072 (4.18)57
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 | Apr 21, 2024 |
I am trying to read the whole series over the course of a year by reading one volume each months. This book collects the 7th to 9th volumes. These books primarily cover World War II and Nicholas Jenkins having to become an officer. The same characters keep cropping up and Kenneth Widmerpool in particular is increasingly monstrous throughout this section. I did find this section less fun than the previous 2, I'm just less interested in the male world of the army and war than in the London nightlife I guess. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Feb 20, 2022 |
In Powell's inimitable style, the three books of Volume 3, encompass WWII. Nicholas Jenkins, our narrator, continues to share his internal monologue. Many characters, new and old, populate these years. The reader is privy to the absurdities, the humanity, the vanity and selfishness, of former society scions coming face to face with themselves, with war, with reversal of circumstances, with kindness, with cruelty and with the sheer exhaustion of individuals and nations after six years of war. Powell's capacity to share the minutiae of daily life and the inner psychological pondering of the narrator can occasionally feel Dickensian, so bear that in mind when taking this volume, and the others, on. I thoroughly enjoyed this volume! ( )
  hemlokgang | Jun 8, 2021 |
I learn I am not immortal ( )
  farrhon | Jan 25, 2021 |
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 |
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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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