Stringham, one of the wealthier and more popular schoolmates of Widmerpool, had, after years of riotous living, dried himself and achieved a kind of peace. When he reappears, it is as private in the army, whose job it is to be a waiter in the mess hall. Jenkins (the narrator) suggests to Widmerpool that maybe Stringham could be helped.
The piggy (I can’t help but think of him that; in fact, I think of Widmerpool as being a malicious version of Piggy from Lord of the Flies) fellow agrees and transfers Stringham to a mobile laundry unit, knowing that it will shortly be deployed to the Far East and that he is sending Stringham from a comparatively safe position to one of far greater danger.
Is he trying to kill the man? Is this revenge for having been more charming, for being wealthier? Is he enjoying the appearance of meritocracy recognizing his own (evil) genius? Or is just afraid that his connection might be embarrassing so sends him as far away as possible?
I think that it is a kind of assassination. Which is supported because death, suddenly, becomes very real. On a single night, during air raid, bombs hit a night club and a house, each of which contained more than a few people of Jenkins’ long acquaintance. Death by way becomes clear after the first book taking place during WWII (The Valley of Bones) played almost like a melancholy. This one is melancholy, but not a farce. It could even be said to veer into Catch-22 territory, though Powell is a far more traditional writer than Heller and his novels are never so outlandishly absurd as that.
As a narrator, Jenkins is too phlegmatic for me here. It would be out of character, I suppose, for him to become openly emotional, but I wanted a bit more from him.
At this point, it must be nearly twenty years since the first novel and, despite that niggling criticism above, the scale of Powell’s achievement is becoming clear. A certain segment of English history (through the eyes of a very particular segment of the population) is being wonderfully chronicled in a subtle fashion. Things like Dunkirk are mentioned, but the focus is on the small scale. Just like the Great Depression was never mentioned, but its effects on the characters depicted.