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Book #51: A Dance To The Music Of Time

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“To dance is to live.” – Famous dancer person

Dancing represents life, vitality, happiness, even sexuality.

A good dancer is never more alive than when she dances—heart thumping quickly, blood churning through her veins, sweat pouring profusely from her pores.

All of these are good things. They’re happy and festive and joyful. They’re interesting and intriguing. I like them. You like them. We all like them together.

They’re everything A Dance To The Music Of Time is not.

If dancing is happiness, then A Dance To The Music of Time is the equivalent of watching 8,000 baby dolphins get eaten by a gang of rabid grizzly bears.

I don’t know exactly where this novel lost me. It’s 3,500 pages, after all. Somewhere after page 1,000 (page freaking 1,000!), this became more a matter of willpower and less a matter of trying to figure this thing out.

If you’ve read all 13 of my posts about this book, you know I’ve admitted to the book having a few moments here and there. But those moments are few and far between. I really, really, REALLY tried to like this novel. After all, I spent all of 2012 reading it.

In a project like this, I have no desire to waste my time. But 95% of A Dance To The Music Of Time was a plodding journey through the life of Nick Jenkins, our friendly, “everyman” narrator.

Dialogue is scarce. And most everything that actually “happens” in the story occurs outside of said story. It’s told second-hand or through reflections by Jenkins.

There is no real plot in the traditional sense. You’re basically following this character, Jenkins, and a few of his friends throughout their lives—literally from their schoolboy days all the way up to old age (at least those who live to old age).

Powell is a good writer, but his storytelling style is not my cup of tea. For example, in the final book, “Hearing Secret Harmonies,” Powell spends 40 pages or so in a conversation between a few characters who discuss whether a particular biography is worthy of a literary award.

In the end, I’ve written so much about this book over the last year (one post a month during 2012) that I just don’t have anything else to say. So this “review” will not follow the template of my usual reviews. I’m just content to get this novel out of the way and move on.

In sum, everyone has their own opinions about these things—and some of you might very well disagree—but I do not recommend this book. If you’re intrigued in a train wreck sort of way, then read the first one and see how it goes. My guess is that you won’t make it to the second book.

And in related news, move over Mrs. Dalloway, you have company at the bottom of my meaningless and highly subjective rankings. I can’t stress enough how much I hated this book. I’d rather eat chicken liver the rest of my life than read another page of this thing.

The Year of The Dance has taken its final breath.

If you’re in a sadomasochistic mood, here’s all of my posts about The Dance:

2012: The Year of the Dance

Book 1 of “A Dance”: A Question of Upbringing

A Dance To The Music of Boredom

How Do You Read Two Books At Once?

“A Dance” Is Finding Its Rhythm

Do You Hate Yourself? Read This Novel. 

Celebrate! The Dance Is Halfway Finished!

After 1,400 Pages, I Finally Laughed

Dancing To The Music Of War

My 5 Responses To A Dance To The Music Of Time

10 Down. 2 To Go. 

The Final Dance Approaches

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33 Comments Post a comment
  1. That really sounds awful, almost like torture. And this may be my favorite book blog quote of all time – “If dancing is happiness, then A Dance To The Music of Time is the equivalent of watching 8,000 baby dolphins get eaten by a gang of rabid grizzly bears.” lol

    January 3, 2013
    • Wow. Glad to make your favorite list! Haha.

      January 3, 2013
  2. I am curious if, after 50 or so books you have a sense of what Time’s list compilers were thinking when they selected each book and this one in particular. Is there any chance that ‘Dance’ was added to the list as the book is uniquely long and dull? Surely they found something redeeming or at least unique enough for its inclusion.

    January 3, 2013
    • I don’t know. Like I said, it’s beautifully written. But I just don’t get it. Part of it might just have to do with the fact that it is so long and Powell wrote it over the course of his entire life. Maybe I’ll have to ask Lev Grossman.

      January 3, 2013
  3. Teresa #

    Very funny! I was surprised to see one last review of this after your last scathing 2 word post about it (‘It sucks’). And I’m glad that it knocked poor Mrs D. out of last place. She deserves better than that. :)

    I read them all, too, and fortunately had a better experience than you. I found books 1-3 to be a peaceful and lovely narrative of the times. Books 4-6 were on the boring side but mostly tolerable. I enjoyed the war years books 7-9 for their view of the non-combat side of war in Britain. I hated books 10-12 where the story was over-the-top. I would recommend 1-3. Congrats on living through it!

    January 3, 2013
    • Thanks! Well, I tried to see it your way. I really did. I wanted to like the novel so bad. But it just wasn’t happening.

      January 3, 2013
  4. Having not read Dance but having read Dalloway several times as well as your last post on Dance, I find you refreshing and honest. You represent the reader response approach beautifully. This type of critique requires the reader to bring all personal assumptions and expectations, his age and cultural experience, and especially her reason for the act of reading, to the process of analysis and judgement. Reader response depends first, like many life experiences, on reader expectations. Devoted to your reading list as you have made yourself, you escape the simplistic comment that after 1000 pages of a book and thousands more to come, it is mere masochism. Perhaps the commitment to the reading list itself represents a masochistic bent, but once committed, you are simply a determined reader to be admired. As to your comments on both books, it would seem that authors who employ long sentences do not appeal to you. I assume Garcia Marquez will also give you pause, though he might overcome your aversion through his imaginative characters and eventful plots. Mrs. Dalloway gave me a hard time as well on first read– at least the first half of the novel. It seemed to me an obsessive celebration of the British upper class who by right of position had escaped most of the discomforts of a war which had devastated the “commoners.” Then Woolf turns inexplicably toward the tale of madness and PTSD (a term unknown at the time) in the lives of a young veteran and his wife and the woeful lack of any meaningful treatment available to them through an upper class doctor. This tale ends in the soldier’s awful suicide. Woolf returns, almost as if the soldier’s tale had not ever meant to be part of the book, to the Dalloway universe and the endless party which closes the plot. All is status and impression, class and decorum, with even a visit from royalty thrown in for completion of the aristocratic milieu. It is reminiscent of what Poe does in “The Mask of the Red Death”, where royalty locks the gates of the castle to keep out the subjects who are dying of plague and keep in the chosen few to dance the masque and ignore the suffering. Dalloway herself perhaps can be said to live past the suffering, unlike Prince Prospero, but Woolf’s reader is suddenly pinned by the appearance at the festivities of the very doctor who was so unprepared to treat the suicide yet retells the history of the case as an anecdote meant to entertain the partiers. For me, and in reader response the expression “for me” is redundant, this is where your reader’s comment on Woolf “splitting the atom” is pointed. In a novel so apparently adoring of the British class system, a tiny percentage of plot and dialog, the size of an atom to the scope of the book, serves to condemn the aristocratic aloofness of early 20th century Britain in ways which still reverberate today and can be sadly applied to the general American public and its government that try so energetically to distance themselves from the suffering of war on both, or perhaps better said on all, sides and look instead to abstract discussions of reasons for war and statistics of war. In America, a most poignant example of the disconnect between government officials who declare war and soldiers who die and suffer lifelong for their government is the paltry veteran benefits doled out by those in power in the Senate and House of Representatives, those very men and women who regularly vote to increase their own salaries and benefits and who enjoy lifelong retirement salaries in the hundreds of thousands per year even if they hold office for one term. Compare that to the PTSD vet wandering the cold Chicago winter streets out of money, paranoid and suspicious of society and unable to sustain a stable life rhythm. It is this haunting impression of society’s inhumanity I find so compelling in Dalloway. If Woolf had not sidled up to the subject in such a slow and ornate fashion, the reader would never have been trapped into collaterally becoming a participant the frivolous upper class so guilty of living on the largess of the dead and wounded. If a writer can make me feel something I had not felt or come to a perspective I had never considered in a way palatable enough for me to entertain then I will thank him or her and keep them in my respect. Dance does not apparently do this for you, but Dalloway does so for me. Much respect to you and your quest. I look forward to reading your insights.

    January 3, 2013
    • Great insights. Thanks. Dishonesty is easy to pick up on blogs, I think. So I try and be as genuine as possible with how I respond to these books. It’s my first reaction without the benefit of another read through or taking a ton of time to read critiques and reviews about each book. If I did that, I might attract a small amount of people but I would be bored and most everyone else probably would too.

      January 3, 2013
  5. Some people climb lofty mountains; other people are content with the Matterhorn at Disneyland. Our likes and dislikes are not meaningless as you suggest, rather they often expose our inner selves to the world.

    January 3, 2013
    • This project is my Matterhorn, Mike. I’ve ran a marathon and I feel this is the literary equivalent of that. I’m not even sure what you are talking about with the bit about likes and dislikes. What I’m not going to do is say I like a book just because it’s respected in the literary world. I wouldn’t sell myself out like that.

      January 3, 2013
  6. You did it! You’re done with it! Even though you hated the book, you should be proud of yourself for being done with it. Good job.

    And what you said about the dancer and the dance at the beginning of this post? You nailed it. :)

    January 4, 2013
    • Thanks Heather! I should congratulate you for probably reading all my posts about this book. Writing about it almost put it me to sleep, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like reading.

      January 4, 2013
  7. Tristan #

    I read the first volume, thought “there are some interesting moments here, but not enough to justify reading all the rest”, and instead watched the very good television adaptation. Your experience confirms my feeling that the tv series is the best way to experience this story,

    January 15, 2013
  8. My review: “I just don’t get it” So I am glad to have come across this blog :-)

    April 9, 2013
  9. I love your blog much, stored to bookmarking.

    May 7, 2013
  10. frissonsentence #

    I’ve only read the first of the twelve, and I’m not sure I’d like to continue. Maybe if I’ve run out of other books to read, or if I’m being particularly masochistic. But until then it’ll gather dust on my shelf.

    September 18, 2013
  11. Brad Flory #

    I wonder how 12 books published over several decades qualifies as “a novel” in the first place. I also read the whole thing, and concluded the only explanation for why it is held in such high regard is the author was rewarded by peers for persistence. Readers need that quality, too.

    March 7, 2014

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