The second novel is as enjoyable as the first, I would say. Like the first, it’s a comic novel, in an old fashioned or traditional sense. Not a satire or humorous novel, but gently comic. Nothing disastrous, at least not so far in the series, has happened.
It opens en media res and it took me a few minutes to get up to speed. A Question of Upbringing finished during Nicholas Jenkins’ first year at Oxford. A Buyers’ Market opens after finishing his undergraduate, with the narrator now working at an art book publisher. This is learned through the action and I was caught off guard, expecting him to still be in school and was a bit confused until I caught on.
It’s not deep novel. Not Dostoyevsky. Not a roman a philosophe. But one bit struck me. The context is Jenkins learning that a long ago crush, who he had hardly thought about, married someone he considers to be a bit of an ass. But the jogging of his memories of that old crush is powerful.
Such emotions, sudden bursts of sexual jealousy that pursue us through life, sometimes without the smallest justification that memory or affection might provide, are like wounds, unknown and quiescent, that suddenly break out to give pain, or at least irritation at a later season of the year, or in an unfamiliar climate.
God help me, I know the feeling. I am happy in my relationship and don’t feel any need nor desire to stray. But I know the feeling. Jenkins notes that the feeling is usually associated with people from one’s college age days. Not necessarily an ex, but that girl (or boy) you knew, who was, though perhaps only tangentially, in your social circle. You might not have liked her (or him) that much, in a larger sense, but sometimes you are painfully reminded of the raw and simple fact that you never f–ked her. And it irks you. Not that you aren’t right now, but that you didn’t then. This is the feeling that ordinary folks like myself feel instead of the related injury (to continue with the wound metaphor) of Humbert Humbert’s more insidious poisoned wound.
There is a sense of the narrator feeling a bit left behind. He is clearly moving towards becoming a writer, but is ‘in-between’ in a way that his three friends from school are not (Widmerpool, Templer, and Stringham), who are already on their way to career success or marriage or both.
The object of his, shall we say, sexual nostalgia (who happens to be the sister of his school friend, Templer – the object of desire is Jean Templer) is married, too, and Jenkins notes that he automatically treats a married person as being older than they are. Also, as older than him. He feels younger because he has not settled on his future, the more so because it feels like everyone else has.
He is between two worlds in another way, being part of upper class society through family and school connections, but in this book, he is also making connections in a sort of bohemian underworld, where the upper class and disreputable class meet in a sort of neutral zone (yes, that was a Star Trek reference, though not really an accurate metaphor).
I’m considering taking a break and finishing up another Wheel of Time novel (I think I just have two more left; less, really, since I’m already halfway through the penultimate novel) before starting on the next book in Dance to the Music of Time.