The novels comprising A Dance to the Music of Time are not novels of action, but of the mind. They are as much concerned with the inner life of its narrator, Nick Jenkins, as they are about the events of which he is describing. The novels are an extended musing on the dark comedy which is life, the inexplicable winding path our lives often take and their unexpected inter-twining with others, time and again. The novels also deal with the shifting character of what we know about each other, often strikingly wrong, and about life and our lives as social beings, as we grow older and gain experience.
Powell was an exceptionally gifted writer which is what makes these novels especially rewarding to read and re-read. His deft irony pervades the novels, giving them an almost comic character at times. It is no secret that many of the characters are based on actual personages of the era, or are amalgams of several such personages. Powell's writings endow these characters with great richness. They are rendered sharply and with great wit.
I have read A Dance to the Music of Time many times and have also frequently watched the BBC dramatization of the novels, which, though it shaves off much of the subtlety of observation and characterization of the novels, does bring a strong sense of the work to the screen. These audiobooks have been a nice surprise in that they achieve a kind of hybrid of the printed works and the BBC dramatization. Simon Vance does not merely read the novels; he performs them, using in most cases the persona of the actor or actress who performed the character in the BBC series. Unlike that series, however, we get the full text, all of the musings of the author and all of Powell's excellent and witty prose.
Like many works of this type, novels of the mind, for instance, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, these novels can seem long. For those just starting, the first two novels, especially, can be a bit dry - but if you persevere the novels just get better. There are magnificent characters, some of whom are already on the scene, but many, many more of whom, all highly individual and richly characterized, are yet to be introduced. It is well worth reading the whole of the work.
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