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A Dance To The Music Of Boredom

Two words: Help me!

I’m in the weeds of boredom. And no matter how bad I want to stop, I must continue.

This was my fear: a 3,000 page book that isn’t interesting. In fact, it’s extremely tedious. When I discussed last month the first of twelve books in the massive novel that is A Dance To The Music of Time, I mentioned that I felt like Anthony Powell was doing a lot of “setting up” the story. Well, book two, A Buyer’s Market, continued that trend. Even moreso.

In fact, the second book in this series–A Buyer’s Market–may be the most boring book I’ve ever read. I’m not kidding. A Buyer’s Market isn’t boring in a Virginia Woolf kind of way. Everything makes sense.

But, for a reason I’m sure will show itself at some point in this book, Powell writes about the most mundane, seemingly pointless topics from the point of view of his narrator, Jenkins. It’s like the most boring reality show ever, but in book form.

For example, here’s a passage that gives you an idea of what Jenkins talks and thinks about during 90% of the book. In this passage, he thinks his foot has brushed against the foot of his love interest, Barbara:

I thought I could feel her foot against mine; but, a moment later, found the shoe in question to belong to Miss Manasch, who immediately removed her own foot; whether because aware of a pressure that had certainly been quite involuntary, if, indeed, it had taken place at all, or merely by chance, I was unable to tell.

Anthony Powell says in 50 words what most authors can say in about 10 words. Not only that, but I don’t think Powell ever heard the mantra of many a writer: “Show, don’t tell.” He leaves nothing to the imagination.

The novel’s style reminds me of sitting between two elderly 90-year-olds who talk for ten minutes about things like leaves, ants, and the appropriate size of a styrofoam cup.

For what it’s worth, A Buyers Market is a book about socialite parties. The book is set in the high society of post World War 1 England. I would say that 95% of the story–if you can really call this a story–takes place at some type of social party. We revisit Jenkins’ friend Stringham. The awkward Widmerpool apparently gets his groove on with a woman of “questionable morals.” Jenkins is just kind of there checking it all out.

Gosh, just writing about this book is boring me to death. Here’s hoping book 3–The Acceptance World–gets much better, because the thought of reading 10 more of these books fills me with dread.

A Dance To The Music of Time is just a dance to the music of boredom at this point.

Tell me it gets better!

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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow, that excerpt was so difficult to read. What is up with all the commas? Aren’t commas supposed to make sentences easier to read? Would have hated to be his editor.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
    • The whole book is that way. Grammatically correct, but just a dry writing style.

      Like

      February 29, 2012
  2. The harder the struggle the more worthy the journey? Truly, 101 Books is not a walk in the park.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
    • I hope so. This one is going to be tough.

      Like

      February 29, 2012
  3. You are in for it. He is not setting up for the remaining books. They are all like that. I just finished the 12 (Whoo-Hoo!!!) last night – and though I liked them, there was a great deal of tedium. You may find books 7-9 about WWII more interesting.

    So here’s what I liked about them: the settings, the exploration of relationships, the perspective of his place in British society during very interesting periods in British history. Take heart!

    Like

    February 29, 2012
    • Crap, Teresa. I thought you would tell me this was going to get so much better. Maybe I’ll at least begin to appreciate his style more.

      Like

      February 29, 2012
      • His humor is subtle, you have to work at it, but it pays off if you do.

        Like

        February 29, 2012
  4. Remind me not to read this one! 🙂 Good luck.

    I just read American Dervish. It’s a new book, not on your list, and I am not as good a reviewer as you, but I did write a short review on my blog.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
  5. The third one is marginally better. I’ve been reticient to try and attack the fourth one, but I’ll do it someday. Queen and country and all that.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
    • Fourth is quite boring. Sixth gets better. You could skip to books 7-9

      Like

      February 29, 2012
  6. Bobbo #

    Robert, I know If I was doing this challenge I would just read the first and leave it at that. It’s novels, not series. For example you did not have to read all 7 narnia books or the sequels to Neuromancer and Catch 22 (which Im sure would all have been more entertaining). Maybe you could try white teeth next? I havent read it, but lots of my friends have read it and say it’s one of their favourites. I know its a UK comedy about multicultural families and I have it to read so I’d be interested to read your thoughts.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
  7. Good feedback, Bobbo.

    Ultimately, I decided I’m a completist and I just had to finish the whole thing. Same reason I’ll be going through all of the Lord of the Rings books at some point.

    Here’s a little background on why I ended up making that decision:

    https://101books.net/2011/09/29/a-dance-to-the-music-of-time-may-kill-me-or-this-blog/

    https://101books.net/2012/01/03/2012-the-year-of-the-dance/

    Like

    February 29, 2012
  8. Why bother ? Just go to the next book on your list.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
  9. Oddly, I find a sick pleasure in this post. I have no idea why. The 90 year olds’ coversation made me laugh.

    Like

    February 29, 2012
    • Well maybe you’d enjoy this book? It’s like living inside the mind of a 95 year old.

      Like

      February 29, 2012
  10. Let’s add some balance to this discussion: A Dance To the Music of Time is easily one of the best novels written in English in the last century. Although it was published as it was written in twelve books, it is one novel and cannot be cut short to save the effort of reading. It might be argued that every book of Dance one reads further amplifies and extends the understanding of all the books that have gone before.

    It may take some time to get into Dance (I have heard readers who praised the novel admitting that they didn’t really get into the narrative until somewhere around Book 4 or even Book 6) but there is a good possibility that when the reader finishes the final volume, they will reach for Book 1 and start all over again.

    For those readers who are unfamiliar with Anthony Powell, I usually recommend that they read The Fisher King first to get the feel of his writing. And if you’re a fan of Dance, remember that Powell has four volumes of his journal published and there are a couple of good biographies too.

    Dance is comedy of manners; it is not a rousing war story or a suspenseful mystery or a tasty exposé. But it is still a fun book to read. The intricacies of Dance can be quite demanding of the reader, yet the prose is simple and direct. It is never boring: boredom is descriptive of the reader, not the book.

    I have made other comments on A Dance To the Music of Time at http://wp.me/p1mTHK-zU .

    Like

    February 29, 2012
  11. You have SO depressed me. I keep walking past my copy. I finished Book One and started Book Two and found it a degree better than Book One but then Life Blew Up and I haven’t gotten the mojo going. And now this. WHY ANTHONY POWELL!? WHY!?

    Ok and ALSO this begs the question: Do you think that MAYBE some of the books on this freaking list are there because the list-makers felt they’d look like uneducated illiterates if they DIDN’T include them on the list? Like are there some books on here you suspect were merely put there so they’d not look dumb? Because sometimes…

    Like

    March 1, 2012
    • Are you suggesting that some of the books on the Time’s Top 100 are only there because most of the world regards them as important books but the reality is that they are actually bad books and Time is just covering up their true feelings by going with the flow? And you see this as more likely than the possibility that, no matter how great the novel may be, some readers are just not plugged into it: whether it be the style, the subject, the length, the complexity, the lack of a character you want to have a beer with, or whatever.

      Not every book is written to impart a universal warm and fuzzy feeling to the reader. Not every event in a person’s life is fun. However, books, like events, can play a significant role in our growth as humans.

      There’s also a balance: Dance may be slow and methodical but Dog Soldiers is a fast moving war & drugs love story and, as I pointed out earlier, the movie version of Dog Soldiers starred Tuesday Weld so how bad could it be?

      Like

      March 1, 2012
      • You’ve never met a person who says they like something just because they feel they should? And yet when you dig at them all you get is a bunch of recycled crap a bunch of other people have said before him instead of his own personal opinion as to why THEY like it? That’s what I’m talking about.I don’t know if it happened with the Time list but this reminded me of that sort of experience.

        On everything else, you’re preaching to the choir. I love my books, always have, always will. I like them rough, tender, bitter, sweet, angry, joyous, loving, hateful, compassionate, vengeful, insane, calm, clear, confused, etc.

        Like

        March 2, 2012
  12. Geoffrey #

    just found your comments while surfing the web – I’m just about to start book 6 (I’m taking this year to read the series) and I’m really enjoying them – they are basically about posh boys and girls at dinners and parties and having multiple marriages/affairs which is what the upper classes did between the wars. I like Powell’s dry style of writing – at least he can write descriptive sentences unlike some modern writers (Booker prize winners take note).

    Epic novels take time to develop and move the story along it’s par for the course I find.

    I feel that I’m only able to come to this novel now after having read lots of other books – it’s a serious set of novels rather then a skirt around the time and era.
    I’m off to begin The Kindly Ones

    Like

    March 2, 2012
  13. I forgot to mention, my copy is from the library and someone previously marked it up with underlining here and there and little comments in the margin. I have to agree with the comment-maker of my book Powell DOES make some pretty funny little quips here and there. They’re really dry but they’re… cute.

    Like

    March 2, 2012
  14. Shem the Penman #

    Every one of Robert’s reviews of these classic novels is a love affair between Robert and himself.

    Shem

    Like

    March 11, 2012
    • Your comment is true but hardly fair. Consider that Robert is a child of the ’80s and all that “me-first” indoctrination. And give him credit: I hear that half of the college graduates will never read another book. Sadly, the other half often read the wrong books.

      It might turn out that after reading the top 100 books (even if they were selected by that great literary magazine, Time) Robert might begin to see why some of those novels he hated were actually the best novels he read.

      And a note to Robert: Based on your responses so far, I would save Ulysses until it comes up in 1001 Books You Have to Read Before You Die.

      Like

      March 11, 2012
      • Thanks Mike…I guess?

        Oh, and I’ve actually read Ulysses and somewhat liked it. Took a Joyce class in college and read the whole thing, so I know what I’m getting into there. Saving it for the end, though, since it wasn’t on the Time list. It was my addition.

        Like

        March 11, 2012
      • Shem the Penman #

        Mike,

        For too long, reading has been perceived as some sort of intellectual pursuit. I pray Robert’s blog will change all that, and he can reclaim reading from the book snobs and pretentious fanatics that have ruined it for everyone else.

        Shem

        Like

        March 12, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How Do You Read Two Books At Once? | 101 Books
  2. Book #51: A Dance To The Music Of Time | 101 Books

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