Hearing Secret Harmonies, Anthony Powell

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Winter (containing Books Do Furnish a Room, Temporary Kings, and Hearing Secret Harmonies, Anthony Powell, Popular Library, 1976, ISBN 445-08448, $2.50, 241pp.

Project Powell ends off with a whimper. It took me awhile to get through this last volume in the “Dance to the Music of Time” series. Now that I’ve read all twelve, I think I can make some sweeping generalizations about the series.

Although the first book implies that the series is about four people, basically it is just about two: Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator, who is a rough stand in for the author himself; and Kenneth Widmerpool, the man who rises above his station and falls off the ladder. I like Jenkins. His demeanor and outlook on life is wry, sophisticated, and inimitable. Just how an author would like to be seen. However, I did not like Widmerpool, and I felt mad with myself for falling into Powell’s trap. I get the feeling that you aren’t supposed to like Widmerpool for a single reason: he does things the wrong way. He’s pushy, self-centered, and vain, or at least that’s the words we use for people who are failures. If Widmerpool had been successful (that is, if we were to speak of him before his fall), we would have said that he was aggressive, driven, and eccentric.

In this last book, Powell tries to pull in the loose ends, updating us on a little bit of all the characters we have met in the past, while trying to put the finishing touches on his comments on this generation. I found it anti-climatic. The climax came in the last book with Pamela Widmerpool dropping the horrible revelation about Kenneth’s sexual habits. The wind out of his sails, he floats about afterwards, his previous accomplishments now meaningless. It’s a sad story, alright.

I’m not inclined to read more by Powell. While I found the series interesting, and do not regret having taken the time to work my way through it, his style was a little too “laid back” for me to enjoy.

[Finished December 1998]

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