Sunday, July 20, 2008

book review - The Valley of Bones



There is something about the politics of war, the impact of the fight well behind the lines that is frankly dull. Out of all of the Anthony Powell books so far encountered the wartime trio that starts with The Valley of Bones is one of the most unsatisfactory to read.

Part of the reason is that the action is often confined to barracks and after six books with the same continuing characters suddenly you are introduced to some new names. The problem is that unlike the sorts of people, like Moreland, who you know are going to be recurring features of the story, you sense that a large proportion of the people in this book are purely transitory in terms of the relevance to the narrator’s life.

Then there is the problem with the central character Nicholas Jenkins himself. Drifting through life seems to have been okay so far and not prevented him from coming into contact with some influential and interesting people and situations. But here he is cut off from the war because of his age and inexperience and the reader finds themselves, along with the narrator, a long way from the action.

Where the book works best is when the story moves back to the family and characters of the first six novels come back to life. Jenkins himself introduces a confident soldier who gets involved with his sister in law and threatens to break up the marriage with Chips Lovell. But in one of the best scenes of the book the attempt by Chips to reconcile the marriage is stopped by bombs that kill him and in another part of London his wife. As collections of characters including Lady Molly bite the dust the war seems to have finally arrived in Powell’s world.

The rest of the time he is mucking around in Northern Ireland with the Welsh regi8ment playing at being an officer and watching as the ambition of his senior officer burns strongly then gets snuffed out.

All the time Jenkins seems to amble along. But unlike the character of Guy in the Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh, Jenkins does not seem to be able to crack the army and move into a position of interest.

Perhaps the boredom and futility that pervades most of this book was also something of the time and is certainly evident in the world portrayed by Waugh. But the reader needs something to cling onto and if this was not the start of the second half of the Dance to the Music of Time it is doubtful you would continue to read on deeper into the series after putting this book down.

Version read – Arrow paperback

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