Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review of the Day: Venusberg


Anthony Powell is best known for his 12-volume novel, A Dance to the Music of Time, which follows a loose group of acquaintances from school days on the eve of WWI, through service in WWII and subsequent careers. The plots of the individual novels are less important than the entwining of these characters as they move in and out of each other’s lives over the years.

The shape and ideas of Dance, and Powell’s dry humor, are visible in his earlier novel Venusberg. Although the plot is different – a young journalist is sent to cover the political unrest in a newly-minted Balkan state – the book similarly depends more on characters than action. Lushington’s circle includes an old school chum who stole his lover, a penniless Russian count, the seductive wife of an eminent professor, a fake count selling beauty products, a grandiose and loquacious valet, and a dozen others swirling around the diplomatic and political scene in the new capital.

Powell is content in Venusberg to observe the antics and misfortunes of this crowd of characters, while in Dance he shows more sympathy in fully developing each storyline. Still, his descriptions can by pithy masterpieces, summing up whole lifetimes in a few, deft sentences, such as his description of Lucy, Lushington’s former love:

Not long after the [divorce] decree was made absolute it became apparent that she was more than remarkably good-looking. She showed signs of becoming a film star. But she was a girl who felt that life should be full of meaning and she broke with her second husband, a film producer, because he adapted one of the minor classics too freely.

The story arc in Venusberg is none too steep – the plot is bracketed by Lushington’s arrival in and departure from the Baltic capital and pretty much confined to a series of comic scenes and character sketches. It is a book probably most appreciated by Powell fans, but could serve as a quick introduction to this great author.


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2 comments:

Sun Singer said...

I made need to check out this author whom (odd as it may seem) I;ve never heard of.

Malcolm

Rose City Reader said...

SS -- It's not odd that you haven't hear of him. He was a prolific but lesser-known British author from the mid-20th Century. He never made it big in America, I don't think. And I don't think he is widely read even in England any more. I almost started my review with, "Anthony Powell is best known -- to the extent he is known at all . . ."

If it hadn't been for my drive to read all the books on the Modern Library's Top 100 list, I wouldn't have read Dance to the Music of Time and would never have discovered Powell for myself. I'm so glad I did!

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