I realised that it had been a while since I last read an installment of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series, so I decided to take the next volume off the shelf, which in this case is volume 6, The Kindly Ones.

The Kindly Ones by Anthony Powell

In this volume Nick is in his early thirties; married and with a child on the way. However quite a large part of the novel is give over to a reminiscence of Nick’s childhood days around the time of the outbreak of the Great War. Then, later, we follow Nick as an adult as he again comes back in contact with old acquaintances such as Peter Templer, Widmerpool and Sir Magnus Donners.

As a slight aside, I notice that fellow book blogger Robert Bruce (over at 101 Books) has been reading through this series over the course of this year, but has not been enjoying them one bit. (A fact which makes his effort to persevere through all twelve volumes quite remarkable). Anyway, whilst I personally have been enjoying reading them, I can quite imagine that many people would not particularly go in for them. Firstly, there is very little in the way of action of any sort; rather fairly intricate observations are recorded of various of Nicholas Jenkins’ friends and acquaintances.  Furthermore, the social milieu is rather firmly set amongst upper class families and gentry, and this, coupled with the rather elegant, learned, and sometimes ponderous prose makes it quite a unique sort of piece. It is also quintessentially English.

But as I say, to my mind there is much to enjoy in this series, and this volume is no exception. Much is played down and therefore often rather subtly stated, but there are some fantastic pieces of dialog throughout, so I thought I would pull out a few by way of example. Some of my favourite excerpts are taken from quiet, private conversations Nick has with old friends – often late at night after an evening out. Here are some such musings:

‘All right,’ said Moreland, ‘love, then. Is it better to love somebody and not have them, or have somebody and not love them? I mean from the point of view of action – living intensely. Does action consist in having or loving? In having – naturally – it might first appear. Loving is just emotion, not action at all. But is that correct? I’m not sure.’

‘Barnby says he is always on his guard when things are going well with a woman.’

‘One of the worst things about life is not how nasty the nasty people are. You know that already. It is how nasty the nice people can be.’

‘In real life, things are much worse than as represented in books. In books, you love somebody and want them, win them or lose them. In real life, so often, you love them and don’t want them, or want them and don’t love them.’

A note on the significance of the novel’s title: During the narrative, Nick explains:

‘…the Greeks, because they so greatly feared the Furies, had named them the Eumenides – the Kindly Ones – flattery intended to appease their terrible wrath.’

I take this to be a subtle hint to the reader of the coming chaos that the characters will experience in the following volumes, as the Second World War begins in earnest. From the titles alone, I can see that the series is going to become more preoccupied with the war and with life in the military.

As another complete aside, not only have I now read halfway through this series, but I notice this is also my 250th post on this blog. Hurrah!