Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Soldier's Art - post III

Powell is often criticised for writing about a closed world but he manages to convey, primarily in the figure of Odo Stevens, that the war gave some people the opportunity to break through the barriers.

The normal conventions are in flux and given the chance some will rise. Stevens manages to have an affair with Jenkin’s sister-in-law Priscilla, someone he would have struggled to have met before the war gave him the opportunity.

Likewise the war can also give those who were previously in positions of relative comfort a knock and Stringham’s appearance as a mess waiter being baited by a more senior soldier called Biggs disturbs Jenkins.

But it is a return to the world of London and some of the familiar characters that brings this book back from a world of limited interest. Describing the war is all well and good when it is battle scenes but the endless political movements well behind the lines gets slightly tiresome.

The trip by Jenkins to London sees him reintroduced to Moreland, who has now taken up with the ex-wife of the suicidal critic Maclintick, as well as meeting Chips Lovell who confides his worries about the affair his wife is having with Stevens.

Then in a cruel twist of fate both Chips and his wife are killed by different bombs in the blitz with several other known characters also biting the dust including Lady Molly, the central character of book 4.

In a few pages the war hits home before it fades away again as Jenkins returns to toe world of reports and Widmerpool.

More tomorrow…

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