This is the fourth book in Dance to the Music of Time and it is interesting to watch Nicholas Jenkins’ world expand over the course of these books. It is also impressive, because Powell always takes care to link his relationship with a new character back to an older character (older in a narrative sense). In fact, you could link every character, through several or more layers of remove, to those three friends from school: Charles Stringham, Peter Templer, and Kenneth Widmerpool.
Partly because of my own affection for a fantasy of the twenties, I have found myself feeling less involved as time passes. It doesn’t help that I don’t feel deeply engaged in Nicholas’ story anymore (lector emptor: I have already started the fifth book and I’m getting more excited by Nicholas again).
But it’s also not really his story, is it? He’s a cipher, generally. A stand-in for you and I, the readers. The observer of a changing world.
But things still happen and I’m not entirely satisfied with it. He gets engaged, but the courtship is quite literally skipped over. He meets her (Isobel Tolland) and instantly realizes that this is the woman he will marry. The next ‘section’ of the book picks up with them being engaged. But I didn’t feel it.
With Jean Templer (yes, the sister of his school friend, Peter Templer; her married name being Jean Duport), you felt it. The desire. The connection. I couldn’t tell you a whole lot more about Jean’s character than Isobel’s, but I could tell you a lot more about how she made Nicholas feel. His feelings were painfully realized in the book. Part of it is that Nicholas is a passive observer, someone carried along by the ‘music of time,’ but not, necessarily, one of the musicians. But I am left unsatisfied.
Widmerpool more and more strikes me as a sort of villain. The secret villain of the novels, I feel, who will someday do something terribly wicked to hurt or destroy Nicholas.