Sunday, November 28, 2021

Anthony Powell, The Soldier's Art (1966)

This is book eight, if you're counting.  We're two-thirds done!  The title comes from "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came:"

I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.

As a man calls for wine before he fights,

I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,

Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.

Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier's art:

One taste of the old time sets all to rights.

It's somewhat similar to the previous volume.  It's 1941 and things are heating up--the Blitz is in full swing--but Nick is still in the UK, now working under Widmerpool.  It's hard to imagine what a battle scene as written by Powell would look like.  There's still a great deal of comedy having to do with military bureaucracy and the idiosyncrasies of particular soldiers, but it also gets dark; several semi-major characters are killed in the Blitz.  There's a part of me that wants to not say who 'cause SPOILERS, but then I realize how silly that is, so feel free to stop reading if you don't want to know: there's Chips Lovell, Nick's friend and erstwhile fellow scriptwriter who had introduced him to the Jeavonses; there's Molly Jeavons herself; and there's his sister-in-law Priscilla.  It's not like I had formed any super-fond attachments to these characters, but the deaths still come across as kind of shocking, I guess because of how realistically everything seems: You were just talking to Cbips, and now he's...dead?  No!

What else?  Nick tries to get a position as a liaison with the Free French, but it turns out his French isn't good enough (he says that he really wanted this position--who are you, Nick?).  Stringham, now sober, turns up as a waiter working for Nick's unit, which he seems pretty philosophical about.  Various military things!  What can I say?  It ends with the news coming out the Germany is invading Russia.  I believe the entire rest of the War is covered in the next book, so that should be interesting.  One would hope.

Well, I enjoyed it, basically, is what I'll say.  I don't whether it's because the books are getting more interesting or whether it's just because I'm getting myself more on Powell's wavelength or even just because, the end in sight, I've gained a certain momentum, but be that as it may.  I had thought this was impossible, but now I think I might finish the series before the end of the year.


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