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The Valley Of Bones (Dance to the Music of Time 07) Paperback – 5 May 2005
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"'I think it is now becoming clear that A Dance to the Music of Time is going to become the greatest modern novel since Ulysses'" (Clive James)
"'I would rather read Mr Powell than any English novelist now writing'" (Kingsley Amis)
"'The Valley of Bones is sheer delight.It is immaculate in period and military detail; it praises duty, while at the same time making educated play of its absurdities; it recognises heroism, but is swift to prick pretension; it evokes a wry poetry from drabness and boredom; and it is exceedingly funny throughout'" (Observer)
"'Incalculably brilliant'" (TIME)
"'I find Powell the sort of writer who exerts such a strong pull that turning anyone else's books, after his, calls for an effort of will... One of the most individual tones of voice in contemporary novel-writing and one of the most artful'" (Norman Shrapnel Guardian)
The seventh novel in Anthony Powell's brilliant twelve-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of TimeSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
I am now finding it harder and harder to read other books as I work my way through the "A Dance to the Music of Time" novels. Indeed I have now concluded that this effort of will is beyond me and, as far as possible, I am going to exclusively read this series until that sad day arrives when I turn the last page of Volume 12.
The Valley of Bones begins in Wales, and it's early 1940 and the start of World War 2, and narrator Nick Jenkins, having secured a full time role in the army, is with his new platoon. This development heralds the introduction a host of new characters. Indeed, with the exception of a weekend's leave, where we catch up with various members of the Tolland family, and a few other familiar older characters, the entire book is about Nick's new army world.
I noticed many parallels with Evelyn Waugh's splendid "Sword of Honour" in particular the tedium, the mix of eclectic and disparate characters having to live in close proximity, and the self-delusion and vanity which accompanied some of the nascent military careers at the onset of war. The most notable character, amongst a host of great cameos, is Captain Gwatkin whose dreams of personal and military ambition are thwarted in a cruel black comedy.
There is one person who is curiously absent from this book, excepting for a few oblique references, however as the book closes there he is in all his idiosyncratic glory - Kenneth Widermpool.
So, onwards and upwards as I move on to The Soldier's Art ("A Dance to the Music of Time" Volume 8) which I eagerly anticipate.
This is the first of three volumes of 'A Dance to the Music of Time' that cover the Second World War, and, taken together they constitute one of the finest accounts of that conflict. Jenkins does not see active service in any theatre of war, and spends much of his time engage in routine regimental duties, but this gives him a marvellous opportunity to exercise his laconic observation.
Among Jenkins's fellow subalterns are Idwal Kedward, an ambitious and capable young man endowed with extraordinarily blunt speech, and Bithel (we never learn his forename) a down at heel opportunist who is wholly out of his depth but desperate to perform as well as he can. Bithel's greatest problems arise from his occasional but ferocious drunkenness and the various myths he has promulgated about himself and his background (claims to be a brother of the officer of that name who secured a VC in the 1914-18 War, and to have played rugby for Wales in his youth are just two examples).
The character of Bithel is a prime example of Powell's dexterity at blending humour with an underlying melancholy (perhaps the emotion that most powerfully runs through the whole sequence). Steeped in inadequacy, Bithel somehow manages to overcome, or at least dodge the plethora of challenges that come his way.
As with most of the rest of the novels in this sequence, nothing much happens, but the book is utterly gripping. Another triumph.
Apart from the obligatory visit to a country house, the book focuses on life in barracks. Posted to Northern Island, Nick and his troops must frequently undergo training exercises, marches, and spot-checks. Again, like the rest of the novels, a mass of new characters are introduced at the outset, and it becomes a touch disorientating. It is not long, however, before Powell's superb additions hold their own, and Rowland Gwatkin, Idwal Kedward, Herbert 'Odo' Stevens, and the bibulous Bithel all manage to claim a spot in the author's populous canvas.
The drier humour of the earlier volumes has been dispelled, and The Valley of Bones is the first Dance novel to benefit from a tighter structure. There is a delicate arrangement of the tragicomic elements, while the amusing set pieces are conveyed with a far greater panache than before. Furthermore, the prose has been reworked, the long, sinuous sentences chopped to a manageable length. Nevertheless, Powell shows an impulsive urge to namedrop every character from the series, and it starts to feel like an unlikely procession of tenuous associations. It may be a small world, but such a dense web of affinities begins to stretch credibility.
Although the novel mixes the humour of Dad's Army with the absurdist pathos of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Powell writes movingly of war, and in one stunning passage likens death to a game of musical chairs, a game in which the person 'left without a seat...[is] petrified for all time in their attitude of that particular moment'. Such dazzling moments enhance the precarious tragicomic balance, and their newfound regularity suggests a development in Powell's craftsmanship, a fresh maturity that makes The Valley of Bones the best of the Dance novels so far.