Sunday, November 09, 2008

book review - Temporary Kings



Having mentioned in a review of the previous volume Books do Furnish a Room those connections are in the open here as Anthony Powell moves the location of the action to Venice.

Jenkins is on an academic publishing conference organised by Mark Members and along with some faces from the previous book, Ada now a successful novelist among them, there are some new comers. Among those are two figures that stand out. Russell Gwinnet, a academic from the US announces he plans to produce a biography of Trapnel who has died since the last volume. Then there is Dr Brightman who has the ability to combine an academic ignorance of the real world with an interest in gossip and intrigue.

There is plenty of that provided by the Widmerpools. Pamela is linked too the death of a French public figure and he is embarrassed and embarrassing as they drag each other round Venice. They are guests of a film star that Pamela wants to turn her into a film star but they all meet as the academics do a tour of the film director’s palace.

On the ceiling in the film director’s palace is a painting depicting a King quite happy to allow another man to sleep with his Queen while he looks on. As the book develops it becomes clear that this is the sexual activity enjoyed by the Widmerpool couple.

But Pamela is never one to sit tight and she makes a beeline for Gwinnet and after hearing that the American has purchased at auction a copy of Trapnel’s writings that will help him construct the great lost novel that Pamela destroyed the two enjoy a heated relationship.

Jenkins watches on as these relationships develop and is confined to the margins, even when he visits his first boss who has moved from publishing to painting and now lives in Venice. Throughout it all the twin figures of Kenneth and Pamela Widmerpool are the subject of gossip and scandal.

Once back in England Jenkins is reminded of the past once again as he sits by the bedside and watches his friend Moreland die but he is also keeping an eye on the future with Widmerpool embroiled in a spying scandal and Pamela missing out on her role as a film star.

The ghosts of the past are kept alive with Bagshaw meeting with Gwinnet to fill him in on the life of his autobiographical subject Trapnel. The American is an oddity who has problems conversing and is obsessed with death with his former girlfriend’s death being some cause of erotic stimulation for him.

The book is rather a watershed with not only the death of Moreland but also of Pamela. Maybe part of the problem for me with this volume is that never having particularly cared much for Pamela her rise and fall rather passes me by. Of course she has a role in influencing other characters and pushing life in a certain direction. But with it looking as if she has taken her own life to please her new lover Gwinnet it just feels like not only a waste but to some extent a relief that the remaining book will not be dominated by her personality.

Although it is becoming clear that Jenkins is getting older and his connections with the dance is becoming ever more limited as he fellow dancers dies off there is a real sense of the end coming and ironically it is Jenkins who starts to step into the spotlight. After years and years of describing other people and their achievements it starts to look as if his is not only surviving but also doing so with family, health and mind intact.

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