A Question of Upbringing, Anthony Powell

I had never heard of Anthony Powell, or his twelve book symphony “A Dance to the Music of Time,” until a discussion about the mechanics of the Alexandria Digital Library brought him to light. Although the recommender hadn’t listed Powell as something I’d care for, one of the participants in the discussion who knew of First Impressions, thought it might be something up my alley. Based on this first book, I’m afraid that the machine wins.

A Question of Upbringing introduces you to the main characters of Powell’s magnum opus: the narrator, Jenkins, who one never really gets a handle on because he spends more time describing the others than ever going on about himself; Templar, the womanizer and lay-about; Stringham, privileged and haughty; and Widmerpool, the odd man out, with drive and ambition, but no class. One meets them at boarding school and follows them through college in this first volume, but what happens is never as important as what one thinks is happening. As a narrator, Jenkins is obtuse to the point of frustration, never quite describing the situation, but using plenty of words to not do so. Every time I thought something was going to get interesting, the novel would shift to some other scene.

The blurb writers compare Powell to Marcel Proust, but I can safely say that A Question of Upbringing is much more interesting than The Remembrance of Things Past. A “comic masterpiece,” though? Not in this first volume. The book I have has the next two in the sequence, and I will likely go ahead and give them a try, but based on the first soiree, I must dance to some other fiddler.

[Finished March 1996]

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