The Valley of Bones by Anthony Powell

Probably the least enjoyable so far of this brilliant cycle of novels. Perhaps, to be more specific, it is the least funny. There are funny moments but it doesn’t aspire quite to the same social comedy of the others.

The narrator, Nick, is a slightly too-old officer in the British Army in 1939-1940, and novel concerns his mobilisation and training. As ever, his feelings and opinions are entirely subjugated to those of the characters he meets and thinks about. He is a cypher.

The nature of military life is well-described – dull, in many ways, but suffused with a sense of purpose maintained by discipline and ritual. Connections to the established characters of the cycle, like the Tollands and Barmby, are maintained chiefly by reminiscences and conversations, which reflects the real-life situation of people suddenly removed from one life and placed in another, for reasons beyond their control.

The language is always a pleasure and there is much to enjoy in this book. The account of Gwatkin’s infatuation with a barmaid is very nicely drawn and, indeed, Gwatkin’s whole, contradictory personality is like a metaphor for the times. Widmerpool makes an expected and significant appearance towards the conclusion of the novel.

I am looking forward to the next.

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