Friday, December 24, 2021

Anthony Powell, Temporary Kings (1973)

The penultimate book in the series is also the first that takes place at a time subsequent to when Powell first conceptualized the series.  Is that interesting?  It is to be doubted.  But now we're in 1958, with ol' Nick in his fifties.  

The first two thirds of the novel take place at a writers' conference in Venice.  Nick's friend (acquaintance?  It's very difficult to know what most of his feelings about others are are, aside from the rare instance where he specifically mentions liking or disliking a given person) Mark Members tempts him to come along, saying they can live like kings, which he then associates with the idea of a person being treated as a king for a year and then ritually sacrificed.  There is a sacrifice or two here, of a sort, though I'm not sure if any of them are "ritual."  So, you know, temporary kings.

So!  Naturally, a lot of talk about art here, and in particular a painting of Candaules and Gyges, a pair of which there's a famous story where the one shows the other his naked wife.  Naturally, this is applied to the present people, in particular Widmerpool, Pamela, and her various lovers.  Yes, they are still married.  This book also introduces my new favorite character, Dr. Emily Brightman, an art professor (or something of the sort--I'm not sure it specifies) who holds forth a bunch, intimidatingly smart with a wry sense of humor.  More, please!  There's also an American academic named Russell Gwinnett (who's supposed to be a descendent of Button Gwinnett, the Constitution-signer who hardly signed anything).  He wants to write a book about X. Trapnel, the now-dead writer from the previous book.  There's a lot of him snooping around trying to find clues.  

Now, as for Widmerpool, he lost his seat in the House of Commons, but fell upward when he was granted--I'm not quite sure why--a life peerage, making him eligible for the House of Lords.  For a while he's under suspicion of having done espionage work for the Eastern Bloc, but is cleared of all charges.  So that's great for him, but his marriage is still a little...unsteady, and it ends after there's a huge blow-up after which Pamela overdoses on sleeping pills and dies in bed with Russell Gwinnett.

Well...that seems to be what happens.  But I have a problem here: I'm really not sure how this happened, but there is some segment of the book that is not included in this ebook version.  I checked the guidebook, Invitation to the Dance, because I was confused by the coda where a character who had definitively died earlier reappears, and that was where I first learned about Pamela's death.  I had missed it.  Am I a terrible reader? I thought, but no.  There's nothing other than a brief passage that, if you look at it right, seems to imply something had happened to her.  And for proof, there's a brieft quote in Invitation that includes the word "necrophiliac," so I did a word search on the ereader, and no, that word is definitely not there.  So...what happened?  Is this a weird printing error, or did Powell of the Powell estate for some reason modify the text later?  These both seem extremely remote, but...there it is.  And it naturally makes me wonder if the other volumes I've read have had weird cuts like this that I didn't notice.  I mean, how can we be sure ANYTHING we read is uncut?  We just have to take it on faith.  Which I guess I'll do by reading book twelve in the same place.

Anyway, this book is kind of action-packed, as these things go.  I liked it.


Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

So I have realized that actually, the "necrophiliac" quote comes from the last book, Hearing Secret Harmonies. Also, the guide misquotes it; it's actually just "necrophilic," so I wouldn't have found it anyway. It is not clear that you're not really meant to have a clear idea of how Pamela died in Temporary Kings.

12:20 PM  

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