Anthony Powell’s ninth book in his series, A Dance to the Music of Time (1968) is the third to deal with the narrator Nick Jenkins’s time in the Army during the Second World War, covering the period 1942-1945 and his being demobbed.
Jenkins is not in the thick of the fighting, though working in Whitehall, he is the witness to the devastating threat of flying bombs, and this is well described: ‘The moonlit night, now the melancholy strain of the sirens had died away, was surprisingly quiet. All Ack-Ack guns had been sent to the coast, for there was no point in shooting down V1s over the built-up areas. They would come down anyway.’ (p153).
His job is to look after the Poles in so-called Allied Liaison. Regulars from the earlier books appear – Widmerpool, Farebrother and Templer. At one point he is allocated a driver, one Pamela Flitton, Stringham’s niece. Flitton is a flirt and moves in and out of Jenkins’s life as she climbs through various officers to the dizzying heights of being engaged to Widmerpool himself! Some characters we’ve known before are killed off – off-stage.
We come across Mrs Erdleigh again, who ‘Stevens treated her as if he were consulting the Oracle of Delphi.’ (p143). A few lines further down, ‘She glided away towards the lift, which seemed hardly needed, with its earthly and mechanical paraphernalia, to bear her up to the higher levels.’
Jenkins does cross to Normandy, in the wake of the Allied invasion, but his life is never in jeopardy.
Powell’s humour is droll but imaginative, and obviously endeared him to his readers: ‘Like Finn’s aching jaw on the line of march, the war throbbed on, punctuated by interludes when more than once the wrong tooth seemed to have been hurriedly extracted.’ (p73)
The task presented to Jenkins isn’t particularly easy. Heweston said, ‘When you’re dealing with two Allies at once, it’s wiser never to mention one to the other. They can’t bear the thought of your being unfaithful to them.’ (p101)
The audacious brave Officers’ Plot against Hitler is touched upon, if briefly: ‘They had failed, but even the fact that they had tried was encouraging.’ (p149)
Three more books to go in the sequence.
‘Grinning at them all through his thick lenses, his tone suggested the Minister’s insistence had bordered on sexual importunity.’ (p20) How can he grin through spectacles? Needed rewording, along the lines of ‘Glaring at them all through his thick lenses, he grinned, his tone…’
He refers to V.1.’s when it should be V1s (p153).
‘… watched the Royal Tournament, horse and rider deftly clearing the posts-and-rails, sweating ratings dragging screw-guns over dummy fortifications…’ (p247) Of course this should have been guns – the gun-crew do the dragging. – unless he was imagining it as he thought it was as a child…