Temporary Kings by Anthony Powell

The penultimate novel in this entrancing sequence. The first half is set in Venice, where we meet again many of the familiar characters, with a brilliantly sustained backdrop of art and artistic interpretation. They live in a world created by the writer, existing independently, more or less, of world events or politics. He is very good at creating fictional entities, like books or films, that seem perfectly to reflect their era. For example, a film project, never realised because of the jealousies it evokes in the unhinged but wickedly interesting Pamela Widmerpool, is called ‘Match me Such Marvel’, itself a quote from the not-too-famous poet John Burgon. While the novel of the enigmatic writer X Trapnel is called ‘Profiles in String’ (which I see someone has now actually written as a pastiche – you’ve got to admire the elaborateness of the in joke, which would have certainly appealed to Powell).

One of the great pleasures of these books is the set piece conversations, where the participants speak in impossibly deep and meaningful ways. This, coupled with the intense analysis offered by the narrator, submerges the reader in the action, psychologically speaking. It also makes for some great comedy.

Everyone is getting into middle age, and the evocation of that change is subtly done. The title refers to ancient civilizations where people were made kings only for one year, during which they enjoyed all the trappings of royalty, only to be sacrificed when their year was up – a typically Powellian metaphor.

Only one more to go – I will miss having the next one to look forward to.

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