This time last year there was a popular meme: which books were on the New York Times bestseller list from the week you were born? (Here’s my “birthday list”, and you can create your own here). I don’t put much stock in these meme things, so imagine my surprise when my birthday list led me to discover a series that is now among my favorites: Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, a collection of twelve novellas published by Chicago Press in four “movements.” I read the first two last year and am currently reading the third.
The series begins in the 1920s; the third movement takes place during World War II. The dance metaphor — where characters move in and out of each other’s lives over time — is still quite apt, and it’s what makes these novels so great. As I wrote in my review of the first movement:
Several other characters move in and out of their lives, like partners in a dance. … The dance metaphor works very well in this book. The sequence and pacing reminded me of a ballroom filled with people gracefully stepping through a minuet. And while it is obvious that time is passing, precise measures of time are rarely mentioned, giving the book a languid, leisurely feel.
In the third movement the main character, Nick Jenkins, is in the army, and people from his past enter and exit the dance, just as in earlier movements. One turns out to be his boss; another, a waiter in the army mess. Still another invites him to dinner while he’s on leave, and cries on Nick’s shoulder as he tells of a failed marriage. Some of Nick’s old friendships “click,” others fail to stand the test of time.
Reading A Dance to the Music of Time, I find myself reflecting on people I’ve known throughout my life: those I’m close to, those I’ve lost touch with, and new friends. And recently I found myself in the midst of a “dance” experience, much like those in the book. We hosted Sunday lunch, inviting three other couples, all new-ish friends of ours. The conversation flowed, and we were all having a marvelous time. One person wondered aloud at the camaraderie, and we began to explore the circumstances that made us all get on so well. I thought about how our party came together: several months ago we met one couple, S&GR, at the home of some long-time friends. S&GR invited us to a party at their house, where we met H&MG. H&MG then invited us to a party, and invited B&MC. I was surprised to run into MC at this party; he’s a colleague at work and I had no idea he knew H&MG. Over the course of our Sunday lunch, we discovered yet another shared acquaintance with H&MG, and this time it was someone I met over 15 years ago. This instantly conjured up an image of us all stepping through a minuet, just as in Dance. It was fascinating, and I continued to ponder these connections all week.
Have you had a “dance” experience in your life?