Powell’s second novel in the dozen-volume sequence, A Buyer’s Market was published in 1952. It’s set in the late 1920s and is again
narrated by Nick Jenkins, who stumbles upon some of the work of the artist Mr
Deacon in an auction showroom for sale. Deacon was a family acquaintance.
Powell’s description of the assorted oddments up for sale is highly visual.
working in London for a publisher and attends various debutante balls with
Barbara Goring. ‘This affair with Barbara, although taking up less than a year,
seemed already to have occupied a substantial proportion of my life; because
nothing establishes the timelessness of Time like those episodes of early
experience seen, on re-examination at a later period, to have been crowded
together with such unbelievable closeness in the course of a few years; yet
equally giving the illusion of being so infinitely extended during the months
when actually taking place.’ (p28)
never ‘touched strong drink, in spite of behaviour that often suggested the
contrary.’ (p73) This is evinced at one outing when she pours the contents of a
sugar dispenser over Widmerpool!
is very much a cypher, it’s not surprising he says ‘… for love of that sort –
the sort where the sensual element has been reduced to a minimum – must after
all, largely if not entirely, resolve itself to the exercise of power: a fact
of which Barbara was, of course, more aware than I.’ (p29)
not privy in any depth to Nick’s inner feelings regarding any women in his life
and any sexual encounter he might endure is not seen but inferred, if at all,
behind closed doors.
again encounters Widmerpool: ‘… while he retained that curiously piscine cast
of countenance, projecting the impression that he swam, rather than walked,
through the rooms he haunted.’ (p34)
has plenty of telling moments: ‘Across the road the coffee-stall came into
sight, a spot of light round which the scarlet tunics and white equipment of
one or two Guardsmen still flickered like the bright wings of moths attracted
from nocturnal shadows by a flame.’ (p97) Though the reader might question why
‘one or two’ – couldn’t Nick count them? Was it one or was it two?
also makes an appearance: ‘… you know parents – especially step-parents – are
sometimes a bit of a disappointment to their children,’ (p110) he says of his
mother’s current husband, Buster. Stringham seemed in some way entangled with a
Mrs Andriadis, who gave popular parties. At her party is Mr Deacon, the artist,
and Gypsy Jones, who has a strange attraction for both Nick and Widmerpool. By
now, we appreciate that we’re going to see certain characters often as the
narrative progresses over several books: ‘… was sufficient to draw attention once
again to that extraordinary process that causes certain figures to appear and
reappear in the performance of one or another sequence of a ritual dance.’
Nick spent weekends in the country and lunched at Stourwater, home of
magnate Sir Magnus Donners, where he again met Jean Templer; she was now
married; his earlier feelings for her have dematerialised. Widmerpool, employed
by Donners, make an amusing appearance during a tour of the Stourwater dungeons,
though he wasn’t a captive, as Nick briefly surmised. Nick later managed to
wreck one of his master's ornamental urns with his car (after it is rejuvenated
following a flat battery). In the autumn Stringham eschewed the company of Mrs
Andriadis and married Lady Peggy Stepney; the artist Mr Deacon died after his
birthday party, and Nick apparently had his wicked way with Gypsy after
Deacon's funeral in the back room of a shop, though the emotional and physical
content leaves a lot to be desired, no pun intended: ‘The lack of demur on her
part seemed quite in accordance with the almost somnambulistic force that had
brought me into that place… such protests as she put forward were of so formal
and artificial an order that they increased, rather than diminished, the
impression that a long-established rite was to be enacted, among Staffordshire
figures and papier-maché trays, with the compelling, detached formality of
Several characters who appear here we will meet again in the next book,
among them J.G. Quiggin and the author St. John Clarke…
Not a lot happens that is dramatic or pertains to the real life of the
majority of the denizens of Great Britain; perhaps it’s because we’re viewing a
microcosm, a certain bohemian section of upper-class English society, entirely
bereft of emotion and sentiment. Yet there’s a fascination with the characters,
their descriptions and their interactions that compels me to read on.
Note: The cover art for the series (1980s) by Mark Boxer caricatures individuals from the books.
This one (on the left) is Sillery, who we met in the first book and appears
here hobnobbing with names he can later drop into a conversation; he has a
passing resemblance to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan!
Next: 3: The Acceptance World
there’s a dearth of chapters; four only. While I’m getting used to the lengthy
paragraphs and long complex paragraphs, they really could have been improved by
than one book Powell uses the expression ‘Once in a way’ when he probably means
‘once in a while’. I can live with it.
the car’s flat battery thus: ‘It was clear that the battery had run out.’ Maybe
it’s typical of that time, but it’s odd.