Brian McFarlane reviews 'Anthony Powell: Dancing to the music of time' by Hilary Spurling

Brian McFarlane reviews 'Anthony Powell: Dancing to the music of time' by Hilary Spurling

Anthony Powell: Dancing to the music of time

by Hilary Spurling

Hamish Hamilton, $55 hb, 525 pp, 9780241143834

Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane has had three overlapping careers, as teacher, academic, and writer. He is the author or editor of over twenty books


Readers of this review are warned that they are in the presence of an addict. Having read Anthony Powell’s monumental twelve-volume Dance to the Music of Time three times, I had been trying not to succumb to a fourth. Then along comes Hilary Spurling’s brilliant biography and will power has suffered total defeat.

Anyone who has read Spurling’s magisterial ‘lives’ of, among others, Henri Matisse and Ivy Compton-Burnett (each in two volumes), will be expecting that irresistible combination of immaculately detailed research and eloquent storytelling. There are pages of notes at the back giving sources for everything, but Spurling has not peppered the chapters with those little numbers that can get in the way of narrative fluency. Since, like Powell in his great work, she deals with a huge cast, it is important for us to know where she got her information about them, but equally important for them to establish and retain their presences.

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