Wednesday, September 23, 2020

"What did you read in the pandemic, Daddy?"

I haven't learnt a foreign language during the pandemic but I have finally read  "A Dance To The Music Of Time" by Anthony Powell. As Tony Hancock said, there ought to be a badge.

I started the first volume, "A Question Of Upbringing" back in March. Last night I finally laid down the 12th, "Hearing Secret Harmonies".

I was helped in reading this by Andy Miller of the excellent books podcast "Backlisted". I read a fair bit but people like Andy read an an awful lot more. He told me that one of the things he sometimes does is supplement his reading with an audiobook of the same title. This made me get hold of the excellent Simon Vance version of Powell's book which you can get on Audible. Once I read one of the books I would then listen to Vance's reading of it and I found this sealed it in my memory and then made the reading of the later volumes easier.

I can't pretend it was all easy. Powell writes in the way that Sir Humphrey speaks when he's trying to avoid giving a direct answer. However after about three volumes I did get into its stately rhythm and was starting to look forward to the next appearance of favourite characters like Uncle Giles, General Conyers, Charles Stringham, Mrs Erdleigh and Pamela Flitton.

I enjoyed it most when it had a strong sense of place, which is why I found the three books dealing with his experiences in the war so compelling. 

The temptation now is to go back to the beginning and start again, taking in details of the introduction of characters now that I know what happened to them.

Furthermore I'm writing this the day after the government announced a further six months of restrictions. 

I may have to find another, full immersion reading project.


  1. You might like Strangers and Brothers by CPSnow - only 11 books!

  2. Try Simon Raven's Alms for Oblivion series, it covers similar territory and is less "stately".

  3. I enjoyed the six Jan Ove Knaussgard books, but there are many who didn't make it through the first one.

  4. The Folio Society edition is really good, especially as plates drawn from the Powells’ scrapbooks are featured. The inspirations for estates like Stourwater, caricatures of characters, and many paintings noted prominently in the work are featured.

  5. I read these a few years' ago and found some of them very enjoyable, but some of them incredible tedious. However, I agree that you start to look forward to seeing some of the characters again. The TV series is still on ALL4 catch-up and I found this very interesting to watch after I had read the books.

    My lockdown reading, by the way, is Haruki Murakami. He has a particular style (or at least the translations has a particular style) which, I imaganine, is not to everyone's taste, but I've almost finished his novels and short stories over 2020.

  6. I expect you read it years ago, but if not, the Patrick O’Brian
    Aubrey and Maturin saga. Personally I think it’s good to start with the second book, Post Captain, and return later to Master and Commander.

  7. A strong second for the O'Brian series, if not for the reading order. Compulsive reading. I read the whole lot (20 complete books) buying them as I went along. My dad then read the lot, and handed them on to my father-in-law, who also devoured them. Then #1 son got hold of them, and still has them, I think... I'll have to re-read them as e-books, I suppose.

  8. It's not quite the same sort of thing, but Mick Herron's series of Slough House books is genius piled on genius.

  9. The Aubrey/Maturin novels. I've read them four or five times, and I'm now "immersed" in Patrick Tull's magisterial and wildly entertaining audiobook readings.

    I tried re-reading Anthony Pole's box set recently but got irritated at myself for enjoying it the first time around.