(Sixteenth-century print, no further information found here)
At the beginning of this year I got all excited about heavenali’s ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ challenge: to read one of the twelve books in Anthony Powell’s sequence every month for this year. I reread the first and wrote about it here. Now we are in May and I haven’t even reached the end of the second book.
Why am I not reading these books? On the one hand, I shouldn’t have taken on the challenge. My reading time is limited at the moment, and there are a lot of books I ‘ought’ to be reading when I do have time. On the other hand, I do seem to have enough time to sneak in some books which are not on my ‘ought to’ list: ‘light’ books which don’t require much effort. Either way, poor Anthony Powell falls by the wayside and has to pick daisies and perhaps his nose, no he would never do that, while I’m off with Daphne du Maurier or Michelle Lovric. ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ isn’t quite enough of a priority for me.
It gets worse, because I do have a bit of a problem with Powell’s saga and if any of you have read it and could comment on this, I’d be very grateful. The problem is that I feel I am missing something fundamental. The novels are exquisitely observed and funny. The delineation of character is entirely believable. Unfortunately, the author’s point is too subtle for me to grasp. Characters whom Nick, the narrator, knows quite superficially interact, then Nick remarks that something profound has occurred and he must go home and ponder it. And Helen remarks that two people have clearly had a tiff about something and yet the world still turns. This is not the attitude that a reader of fiction should have. Am I being impatient? Am I reading insensitively? Help me, o people of the internets. How should I be reading these books?
(Photograph of Anthony Powell, undated and uncredited, found here)
Anyway, my dilemma. It is this: should I stop faffing about, inject a little steel into my spine and carry on with the sequence? I could still read them all this year, after all, and even if I didn’t it wouldn’t matter as long as I actually finished them at some point in the near future. Or should I cut my losses? And if I cut my losses, should I vow to return to ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ in the future, or should I say two attempts is enough and those four fat volumes are occupying a lot of prime real estate in my bookshelves which I could usefully give to some of the books strewn all over this house and providing a source of occasional domestic strife with other members of the household? Although I am loath to give them away because I feel I should be able to read them and if I don’t, I am in some way a failure.
As well as welcoming advice on this dilemma, or series of dilemmas, I’d love to know how you decide to give up on a book, and how many chances you give it before you pass it on. I am more indulgent to ‘classics’ than contemporary fiction; do you differentiate between the books you abandon or are you more democratic? And are there any books which you feel you ought to appreciate, and yet somehow do not?