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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Analysis of a sentence in A Dance to the Music of Time

Here's a sentence from vol 11 (Temporary Kings) of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time: "Friends made in a military connexion were, on the whole, to be seen more conveniently, infinitely more agreeably, in settings of a less deliberate character, where former brother officers, now restored to civilian life in multitudinous shapes, had often passed into spheres with which it was hard to make conversational contact." This sentence gives you an idea of Powell's style and way of thinking - incredibly English (yes, "connexion" is not a typo), hesitant, ruminative, full of qualifications and almost amusing circumlocutions. It's anti-American or at any rate anti-Hemingway (whom he mentions a few times), but not at all decorative, florid, or effusive (not Proust, not Faulkner), not experimental (not Joyce either). At times, he's almost a Python precursor - can you vaguely hear the John Cleese of the cheese shop episode, "ceasing [his] Walpolian activities in order to convey myself ..."?) You could "translate" the sentence into this, I think: When you meet Army friends after the war, your lives are so different that it's almost impossible to have a conversation. But that squeezes our all the nuance, and all the sense that Powell consistently gives us of a mind at work trying to chronicle his life. Interestingly, this 12-volume novel isn't difficult to read, even though the individual sentences sometimes are; there's also a lot of dialogue, very clear in the writing though very subtle in the nuances, and there are extremely few languorous passages  - so it's possible to read the novel at a good clip, not pause to puzzle over the subtleties of language, just get the plot, which is deliciously gossipy throughout. Doing so, however, misses the point - strangely, almost paradoxically, this is a novel that moves forward rapidly, each volume is pretty short and covers only a small swath of time, but that has an almost hypnotic semantic rhythm, forcing your own mind, as you  read it, or write about it, to reflect and qualify, as I am doing in this sentence.

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