The first instalment of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series presented us with excerpts from Nick Jenkins’s days at boarding school and then at university. This second instalment finds him at work in London during the late 1920s. Like A Question of Upbringing, this volume focuses on just a few key incidents and explores them in quite some detail.

A Buyer's Market by Anthony Powell

In this case, the first half of the novel is given over to just one evening’s foray into London’s High (and not so high) Society. First Nick attends a dinner at the Walpole-Wilson’s, where, to his surprise, he meets Widmerpool. Things become more and more awkward as Nick realises that the rather odd Widmerpool and he are both after the affections of the same woman: Barbara Goring. As the evening progresses, the party all move on to a débutante ball at  the Huntercombes’, where Widmerpool continues to pursue the clearly uninterested Barbara, leading to a rather humiliating scene between the two. After leaving the ball, Nick & Widerpool happen to run into Mr. Deacon (an old acquaintance of Nick’s parents) and his unlikely companion, the nymph-like Gypsy Jones. Then, at a late-night café moments later, Nick is spotted by another old school friend, Charles Stringham, who insists on taking them all on to another, rather more bohemian party, hosted by the exotic Milly Andriadis.

The narrative is very well written, in a reflective yet engaging manner, and I am looking forward to finding out more about Nick, Widmerpool, Stringham, Templar, Members and the rest over the course of the rest of the series. The final paragraph of this instalment gives a good indication of both the subject matter and the tone of the piece:

Certain stages of experience might be compared with the game of Russian billiards, played (as I used to play with Jean, when the time came) on those small green tables, within the secret recesses of which, at the termination of a given passage of time – a quarter of an hour, I think – the hidden gate goes down; after the descent of which, the white balls and the red return no longer to the slot to be replayed; and all scoring is doubled. This is perhaps an image of how we live. For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected, so that, before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity.

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