Professor Peter Reuter is admired around the world for his knowledge of drug policy, but he offers another highly valuable resource to those who know him. He is an extraordinarily voracious book reader and has a preternatural ability to match people to book recommendations. He assigned me Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, and I am in his debt for this perfect choice.
In one respect, reading Powell is awkward. People who ask me what I am reading these days express sympathy when I answer their question the same as I did one or two months ago: “No time for reading, eh? That’s too bad”. When Powell’s novels were coming out individually over the decades, it would have been sensible to say that I just finished “At Lady’s Molly’s” and am now enjoying “Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant”, but few people remember the titles of the individual books, so I am left saying “Yes, I am still reading a Dance to the Music of Time”.
Powell is the un-Hemingway in style, and some of his sentences put more weight on the English language than semi-colons and serial commas can reasonably be expected to bear. Sometimes the result is tortured prose such as the following sentence, which requires so much work to digest that it takes the reader out of the story (perhaps even with a bit of irritation).
There was no doubt something to be said for this point of view; and her letter, painfully formulated, had made no secret of a sense of resignation, on her own part, to the inevitable: conveying by its spirit, rather than actual words, the hope that at least I, for one, as an old, if not particularly close, friend, might be expected to recognise the realities of the situation, and behave accordingly.
But more often his poetic, multi-beat sentences serve him well, and deliver emotional impact beyond what simpler text would provide. For example, on the page after the above sentence, the narrator writes of his young man’s crush on a woman named Barbara:
I felt that, if we could avoid seeing each other for long enough, any questions of sentiment – so often deprecated by Barbara herself – could be allowed quietly to subside, and take their place in those niches of memory especially reserved for abortive emotional entanglements of that particular kind.