Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Anthony Powell, Books Do Furnish a Room (1971)

Check it out--the first (and last) title in the series that's a complete sentence.  Whoooaaah!

This starts basically where the last book ended.  The war is over.  Obviously.  Widmerpool is an MP now.  I learned that his character is supposed to be substantially based on some guy named Denis Capel-Dunn.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Capel-Dunn But!  He, Capel-Dunn, died in a (non-war-related) airplane crash in 1945, whereas Widmerpool lives on.  So if you've ever been wondering (and who hasn't?), boy what would the world have been like if Denis Capel-Dunn had survived the war? well...this is the book for you.

Well, what he'd do is have an apparently stormy on-again-off-again relationship with his wife, Pamela.  What some other people, including JG Quiggin, would do is start a literary magazine named--for that atomic-age ambiance--Fission.  Nick (who is researching for a book about Richard Burton, which he constantly brings up) does some work for them (also, here's how little we care about Nick's personal life: now he has two children, but we never see them or even learn their names).  The name comes from the nickname of a left-wing journalist, Lindsay "Books-Do-Furnish-a-Room" Bagshaw.  People refers to him as "Books," and we get two possible origin stories for the name, both of which may be false.  There's also an unstable writer named X. Trapnel, who becomes involved with Pamela for a time before she goes back to Widmerpool, hurling the manuscript for his unpublished novel in the river for good measure.  He accepts this philosophically.  The book ends in a weirdly elegiac way, telling about the future publishing histories of various characters--like the ending of American Graffiti or something.

I found it basically readable, but I sort of wonder if maybe having the war as a backdrop didn't help to focus things.  Only to a point, obviously, but with it gone, things suddenly feel more centerless.  Well...never mind.  With only two books to go, it would be pointless to complain.


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