The more I read, the more appreciate these novels. The third novel, The Acceptance World, like it’s predecessor, jumps several years ahead from the previous one. At this point, the characters we met as teenagers are approaching thirty.
The ‘Slump’ has occurred. No one ever mentions the crash of 1929, but that’s clearly what they’re talking about. People’s financial situations have declined. Marriages are falling apart. A lot of marriages. It seems to be a theme. The narrator picks up with the object of desire from the last book. Which I found reassuring.
The title comes from a particular kind of insurance or reinsurance vehicle used in trade at the time (and which maybe still is). But it is also acceptance of straitened circumstances. And of changing circumstances. Left wing radicals, first appearing in A Buyer’s Market (symbolizing, I now, know, the unlimited seeming potential that no longer exists in this book), are now fully fledged communists and much more socially acceptable.
But, it ends with the likelihood that the poor narrator’s lover will be returning to her philandering husband (whose finances also solidified a bit after, presumably, being hit hard by the crash).
The narrator writes and publishes his novel, but we really don’t learn anything about it. It’s not the novel written by ‘Marcel’ in Proust’s epic. That novel was the novel you, the reader, just completed. This one, by Powell’s narrator, I suspect is something more prosaic.
The ending seems to foreshadow more disappointments than the ones already accepted, with one of the narrator’s school chums declining in alcoholism, another into unhappiness, and the least likable one (Widmerpool) seeming to approach a position of too much power for a man who always seems oddly dangerous and certainly untrustworthy and irritatingly, materialistically pretentious (like an a–hole junior associate at a hedge fund). That said, previously, Jenkins, the narrator, had felt left behind by old school chums who went on to greater wealth and marriage. Now, many are finding themselves somewhat diminished and closer to Jenkins’ financial level and his failure to marry seems nearly genius.