Monday, November 22, 2021

Anthony Powell, The Valley of Bones (1964)

The title comes from Ezekiel.  We do start to get into the War in this book, but in spite of what the title might suggest, it's not super-hardcore.  We're still in 1940, prior to the Blitz, and Nick is still state-side (not "state-side!"  He's not in the US!  Jeez!).  He's a lieutenant with a regiment stationed in Wales and later Northern Ireland.  I must say, I know this is how it works, and probably someone who's studied these things could give me a good justification, but the idea of taking in civilians and just making them officers right from the jump seems crazy to me.  But that is neither here nor there.

So, yeah.  This has more new than returning characters.  We learn about various people in his unit, including the commander, Gwatkin, several of his subordinates, a sergeant named Pendry who ends up committing suicide...and like that.  There's also a section where Nick is on leave, visiting friends and relatives in London.  His wife, Isobel, has a son.  The book ends with the dissolution of the battalion as Gwatkin is stripped of command due to having screwed up thanks to being distracted by his affair with a barmaid, and sundry of the other soldiers, Nick included, are reassigned.  This gives the book more of a sense of self-containedness than any previous: the story of this battalion and its end.  And after that, he's going to be working for...that's right...Widmerpool!  Who is now a DAAG (Deputy Assistant Adjutant General).

I enjoyed this book.  That probably explains why I read it so speedily.  But I did notice one thing: so through the series, we never learn much about Nick himself.  He makes observations about social behavior, but we learn little about his life and opinions.  And that somehow becomes <i>a lot</i> more noticeable now that he's in the army.  He was so keen to join  at the end of <i>The Kindly Ones,</i> but why?  Just a generalized sense of patriotism?  Specific anti-Nazi sentiment?  The fact that he never says anything about these things starts to feel a little weird.  And not just that: at one point here, he mentions in passing having written "three or four novels."  Really?  You don't remember the exact number?  That's justifiable if you're a super-prolific author--a Scott, Balzac, or Trollope--otherwise...not so much.  I can't help seeing some faint self-parody here.

Regardless.  As I noted, I liked this.  I actually read the entire back half in a single day, which show how quickly I'd be able to get through the series if I were more disciplined, dangit!  Regardless: onward.


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