Wednesday, 24 May 2000

Anthony Powell: Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975)

Edition: Heinemann, 1975
Review number: 511

The final part of A Dance to the Music of Time concentrates on what has been an occasional theme until now, esoteric religion, as several characters become involved in what would probably today be described as a New Age cult. Most of the remaining long running characters (including the narrator, Nick Jenkins) are now in their sixties or seventies, and the title refers to both these elements - it is part of a quotation about being affected by mysticism ("hearing secret harmonies" of the universe) before death.

Aside from the final downfall of Kenneth Widmerpool, as his exhibitionist and masochistic side completely takes over his personality, there is little of interest in this novel, a fitting end to a series which has never seemed as good to me as enthusiastic endorsements of its stature by critics suggested. The whole collection is flawed by the colourless, neutral narrator; if it was intended to be naturalistic, we should surely be able to see how he has coloured his narrative with his own personality. The plot of the series as a whole is ludicrous, consisting mainly of a series of coincidences to reintroduce familiar characters. French novelists, notably Balzac and Proust, seem to do this gallery of human life idea far better.

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