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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Childhood Lost: We know almost nothing about the narrator's family in A Dance to the Music of Time

We get a rare glimpse into the childhood of the narrator, Nick Jenkins, in volume 11 of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time - yes, that's right, volume 11, and it's kind of incredible how little we know about Nick's family, his upbringing, his ancestry, and his childhood - usually the basic raw materials from which writers craft bios or memoirs or, and especially, autobiographical fiction - just thinking of three other similar magnum opi that I have been reading or re-reading: Proust (the font of all), St. Aubyn, and Knausgaard, to name 3 - all of which build on a foundation of childhood memories and trauma, variously. Not Powell - and there may be something consummately English in this, as if his life began in boarding or, as they so quaintly call it, "public" school. Even what we get in volume 11 is only a hint - we learn that his father was in the military (maybe he'd said this somewhere before but he did little w/ that information), that he took the family to Venice - in between postings? for vacation? I'm not sure - and he had fallings out w/ various friends over the years. Nick recalls one of these friends manquees, who is now in Venice, where Nick is attending a writers' conference, and he takes steps to look up this oddly named guy: Tokenhouse, I think. This diversion of the plot - to a character not even mentioned up to this point - is a typical Powell feint, pulling him away - I think - from the unfolding "action" - and maybe we'll never get back to learning about Nick's childhood, or maybe if he does connect with Tokenhouse he, and we, will learn more about his paternal lineage.

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