Monday, April 14, 2008

book review - A Buyer's Market


If you can imagine a series of different dances then the tempo for this one would be sprightly and youthful with a hint of romance. In the second of his 12 volume series Anthony Powell introduces Jenkins into the world of balls, debutantes, gossip and love.

One review I saw on the web said that the book skirts on the edge of becoming too gossipy and that is true but what saves it is the detached air that Jenkins has. Although he is happy to report on what is said and happens he is never obsessed with it. If anything he manages to keep friends with almost anyone he meets, ranging from the left to the right of the political spectrum.

Jenkins thinks he is in love with Barbara Goring, one of the major families in the social scene, but after an evening where his apparent girlfriend is besieged by suitors including Widmerpool he thinks better of it. The partners in the dance are largely the same as the first book, with Widmerpool popping up again along with Stringham who drags them both to a party that ends with Widmerpool going off with Gypsy Jones, a friend of an artist Deacon.

Like a good comic who starts with an anecdote and then keeps reworking in that theme at moments that provoke both surprise and laughter, Powell is quite capable of doing the same. So the book starts with Jenkins remembering a trip to Paris in 1918 with his parents and the moment they bumped into Deacon the painter in Paris. Initially Deacon is remembered through the appearance of one of his paintings in the hall of one of the hosts of a party Jenkin’s visits but then he meets the artist again and that takes him into contact with someone who is peddling an anti-war newspaper and has surrounded himself with some artistic hangers –on. One of these is the mysterious Gypsy Jones but there is also Barnby who is a womanising artist who lives above Deacon’s shop.

As Jenkins, Widmerpool, Deacon and Jones stand talking they are joined by Stringham who invites them to a wild party hosted by Mrs Andriadis. Most of the major players in Jenkins world are there plus some new characters including the camp piano playing Max Pilgrim who gets into a row with Deacon. Then things move away from London with a trip to the home of Sir Magnus-Donners where Widmerpool, who now works for the industrialist, making a fool of himself trying to ingratiate himself with his boss.

Stringham gets engaged and then Deacon dies. After the funeral Jenkins has a taste of Gypsy Jones himself but then goes from that into the bizarre environment of the Widmerpool's for dinner.

The book centres on Deacon more than anyone but he is used as a way of introducing several more characters – Gypsy Jones, Barnby and Max Pilgrim. Stringham remains elusive and Widmerpool still driven by a lust for power. In the meantime Jenkins, now clear of any infatuation for Barbara Goring seems to drift from engagement to engagement without any of the drive of his contemporaries.

Following on from the first book this starts with the feeling of one step back but then shuffles quickly into a London that is all but now forgotten. The world of late night parties, dinner jackets, gossip and debutantes is in its way fascinating. It reminds you of the world that Stephen Poliakoff works so hard to recreate on film and in that sense this occasionally has a cinematic feel to it. Art is also becoming much more important with pictures used to describe someone’s taste, intelligence and depth of wallet. But as with all series you have half an eye on the next book as you come to the end of this one.

Version read – Flamingo paperback

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