Tuesday, February 2

A Buyer's Market - Anthony Powell

In the second chapter of A Dance to the Music of Time we pick up with narrator Nick Jenkins, who has finished his education and is now a member of adult society. In addition to the reappearance of familiar characters like Templer, Stringham and the ubiquitous (and no more likable) Windmerpool, we meet a new cast. The first of these, introduced in the first sentence, is unsuccessful artist and old family acquaintance Mr E. Bosworth Deacon, brought to mind many years later by Jenkins' seeing his work at an auction.
In the style of the series, Jenkins then reflects on his interactions with Deacon, from a chance meeting in Paris as an adolescent, to seeing his work half-hidden at the home of Eleanor Walpole-Wilson, cousin of Jenkin's school friend Peter Goring. And this takes us through a series of debutante balls and a dance with an assortment of characters, threaded through with Deacon and his rather disreputable lady friend Gypsy Jones (who dallies with both Windmerpool and Jenkins, though at different times).
Perhaps because I had a better idea of what to expect, I found I quite enjoyed A Buyer's Market, certainly more than A Question of Upbringing - the key is not to expect a traditional narrative with a plot, or the introduction and explanation of characters. The narrative style is instead more like a stream of consciousness, where one thing reminds our guide of another. Like the title suggests, the reader is danced in a complicated by seemingly random (though planned) pattern, interacting with and parting from various people new and familiar.
It's quite difficult to extract a part from the whole to give a flavour of the writing, as it's all so intricately intertwined. I doubt I'll be able to keep track of the vast cast, particularly as on a first reading there's no way to tell who will recur or be important and who is there as an extra. I now understand why repeated readings would increase the enjoyment of the series, as there are certainly things already that I'd pick up differently from both the first books on a second encounter.
I had a better sense of the comedy threaded through the writing this time, as well as the nuances in the writing, and Widmerpool's heavy presence more strongly indicated his importance in the overall narrative. We also learn a little more about Jenkins, those these glimpses are usually incidental and used to illustrate the character of others - for example, Jenkins gives Widmerpool his work address (not in the City), certain he'll never call by, to which Widmerpool
made some formal enquiries about the firm, and seemed rather disapproving of the nature of the business.
'Who exactly buys "art books"?'

We are, however, left with very clear impressions of how Jenkins sees those around him, particularly potential rivals for the women he (so far quite ineptly) fancies.
There's no question of the writing being a product of both its class and time (both when the novels are set - A Buyer's Market apparently takes place in 1928/29 - and when they were written - copyrighted 1952), as the terms "Jewess" and "negro" and the line "a plump man with a hooked nose and black curly hair, perhaps an Oriental" make clear, quite apart from the minimal role of women. The easy, familiar references to classical art and literature reminded me of Stephen Fry's similar sensibility, and the contrast between this and contemporary novels set in the past was interesting.
I think I'll enjoy my self-imposed task of finishing the series over the year more than I expected, but I doubt I'll preempt a month and read the next installment sooner than planned. - Alex

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