Thursday, April 17, 2008

book review - At Lady Molly's


There is a hint of the Tolstoy about the way that Anthony Powell describes a few of the large families that seem to have relatives that pop up throughout his books. The advantage is that with the narrator Nicholas Jenkins marrying into one of them that world becomes much richer.

Things start though a little bit like A Buyer’s Market with memories of old friends of his mother and father who happen to then crop up again as potential in-laws to Widmerpool who decides that he is going to get engaged. The marriage plans are made public and they turn up for one of the social evenings in Kensington at Lady Molly’s. Together with her odd ex-solider husband Jeavons they manage to attract a large range of people to their home.

One of those attending is a member of the Tolland family, who suffers from having a son that is letting the family country house fall into disrepair because he is some sort of socialist and a daughter – one of many – who appears to be in a lesbian relationship.

The mention of the weird character mucking around as a tramp means that an encounter between Jenkins and the man Erridge is bound to happen sooner or later. Ironically the one to bring them together is Quiggin who is living off the back of some small critic pieces for the papers but mainly through the patronage of Erridge who is keen to get him to promote his Marxist views in a newspaper they plan to launch.

In a case of history repeating itself Mona, who left her husband Templer for Quiggin, is now bored and looking for some more adventure. Ironically she turns to Erridge and together they head off for China to see how things are done in the Far East. The scandal that is caused not just by Erridge going to China, but going with a woman, rather overshadows the announcement of Jenkins own engagement to Isobel Tolland, the sister he met while visiting Erridge for a meal with Quiggin and Mona.

Again Widmerpool provides the comic turn inviting Jenkins to lunch so he can ask advice about when to attempt to start sexual relations with his fiancé, a woman of many more years experience. He agrees with Jenkins that a weekend away to her relative’s stately home would be a good idea.

But the plan backfires and it is after his failed attempt that the marriage is called off and the final scene involves a potentially awkward moment with the newly engaged Jenkins bumping into Widmerpool at Lady Molly’s. The later confirms he is again single and warns against marriage.

The only slight oddity about this book is that there is barely a mention of the courtship and lead-up to his proposal of marriage with Isobel. He falls in love with her the minute he sees her but unlike the details given of his affair with jean Templer there is nothing here.

The other comment to make is that the vast majority of the action in the book happens at night with Lady Molly’s coming alive, a pub crawl with her husband Jeavons drifting into the early hours and the evening spent with Erridge and meeting Isobel.

As a result this has that sort of nocturnal feel to it with the hours between work and play blurred with everyone quite happy to keep enjoying themselves well into the early hours of the morning. Above all that the spectre of Stringham haunts proceedings as he has now developed a serious alcohol problem.

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