I know this is a great work because of how sad I felt when I finished Books Do Furnish a Room, knowing how close I am to the end.
World War II is over, but the scars are everywhere. Buildings not yet repaired and the list of people who have died.
Nicholas Jenkins encounters two former authority figures from his school boy and college days (Le Bas and Sillery, respectively). Le Bas, especially, is a reminder of the folks who were lost in World War II. He was a figure of fun in the first book, but he is quite mournful here. He remembers far more of the boys than Jenkins expected and knows more about the sad fate of many than Jenkins.
I was reminded of a story from the Italo Calvino book, Invisible Cities. Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan about city that seems populated by the faces of people he knew, but who died. This leads Polo to consider two possibilities: one, that he is already dead (and the dead are not happy); two, that he has reached a point in his life where he now knows more people who have died than are alive and his mind can no longer process new people, so places the faces of the dead on every person he meets.
There is a bit about English reviews – in this case, a fictional one called Fission that Jenkins and Widmerpool are involved with. It was apropos because I am also reading a non-fiction book about the reviews, reviewers, and critics who shaped English literary, starting in 1800.
It seemed strange that Widmerpool (now a member of Parliament – oddly, a fellow traveler) should have married the sexually voracious, sexually compelling, magnetic Pamela Flitton. But an old reminder of early days popper up, the community/anarchist/radical Gypsy. Widmerpool and Gypsy had an affair some seven books back (Gypsy even had an abortion). And there was a loud and extravagantly personalitied widower, too, that Widmerpool almost married. He likes these big (psychically speaking), destructive women.
Incidentally, it is revealed that Pamela ran off with a writer (and then ran away from him; presumably back to Widmerpool) and that she and Widmerpool (according to second hand account from her) only had sex a few times and then gave up. Which matches my impression of the man as awkwardly asexual – there was incident with his fiancée, when he asked for advice and decided he should try to have sex with her before they got married (believing that’s what she wanted – not that he was wrong; author made it clear she was a decidedly sexual being), so he sneaked into her room when everyone was staying at someone’s huge country house (this is England, after all) and while the details were not available, there was loud female laughter, Widmerpool leaving the house abruptly and a swift end to the engagement.
I am almost hesitant to read the next book because I don’t want this to end.