I’m into the home stretch of Powell’s Top 100 Modern novel series (in a sense, like Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” this series by Powell is a meta-novel; unlike Tolkien, however, Powell was the one to split his sections into separate books), and it is gaining momentum, mainly because of the inertia gained from having placed this much of a time investment into the series. The title of this novel has to be my favorite, and the anecdote within the book from which it comes is quite amusing–a character receives the nickname Books for his statement, upon entering the library of a home in which he is about to commit an adulterous act with the wife of a prominent book person that “books do furnish a room.” This kind of droll, understated, and somewhat dark humor is indicative of Powell’s series.
This picks up in the aftermath of World War II, as Jenkins and his friends attempt to return to life as civilians. Jenkins becomes the book review editor for a magazine that was endowed by his brother-in-law, Erry, and is also supported by Widmerpool, newly elected MP. Jenkins is fascinated with the novelist X. Trapnel, a strange free spirit of words who is constantly in debt and quite deft with “the touch” (i.e., borrowing from friends and acquaintances), yet who can follow up a touch with the offer of buying a beer for the person from whom he just borrowed a quid. Trapnel finds himself entranced by Pamela Widmerpool, but, as readers of the previous book should know, this is doomed to be disadvantageous to everyone involved but Pamela herself.
The description of how a small literary magazine was run in the post-war era is quite interesting, and unfortunately put in the background as Powell features the actions of the characters. Jenkins sees the magazine as a job, and his interest, as always, is in the gossip that can be provided by the changing of partners in this complex dance of life. Maybe I’m just a wallflower, who finds more beauty in the decorations than in just who is dancing with who on the floor. However, midnight is drawing near on the dance, and most couples are, as Molly Ivins would say, “dancing with the one what brung ya.” It will be amusing to see if there are any coaches turning into pumpkins in the last two books.
[Finished July 1998]