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یکشنبه 14 خرداد 1396  11:58 ق.ظ
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Anthony Powell is not the first writer to compare marriage to a state of war. He is nevertheless in a class of his own as he goes about pleading his case. Book five of his Dance sequence is centered around the study of several couples in the years leading to the World War Two. As he did in the previous novels, Powell starts with a reminiscence, a memory trigger for Nick Jenkins to take a look back at the defining events of his younger, pre-war years. In the present case we have a double exposure : a place and a song. The place is the bombed out shell of a bar where he used to meet with his friend Moreland, a new character introduced now who is a composer and a conductor and who expands the artistic scope of the series from paintings and literature to music. The song is a haunting popular tune from the 1930s, called Kashmiri Love Song, a reference that can only be appreciated at its true value in retrospect, looking back from the future at the desolate landscape left behind by the passing of Love: Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell? and, A direct hit had excised even the ground floor, so that the basement was revealed as a sunken garden, or site of arheological excavation long abandoned, where great sprays of willow herb and ragwort flowered through the cracked paving stones; only a few broken milk bottles and a laceless boot recalling contemporary life. In the midst of this sombre grotto five or six steps had withstood the explosion and formed a projecting island of masonry on the summit of which rose the door. Walls on both sides were shrunk away, but along its lintel, in niggling copybook handwriting, could still be distinguished the word Ladies Cherchez la femme should be the alternate title of the book. After such an ominous debut, I was not surprised that the whole fifth novel has a darker, bleaker tonality than the party atmosphere and the almost burlesque mishaps in courting described in the visits to Lady Mollys salon. Like its narrator Nick Jenkins, the Dance enters into a more mature, deliberate and pragmatical phase, discarding some of its youthfull enthusiasm for a gain in sobriety and depth.A minor disappointment for me is the step back taken by Nick Jenkins after what is probably the biggest decision so far in his life: getting married to Isobel Tolland. I notice now Nick is back to his old role of passive observer of the events going on around him, hardly even participating in the conversations with his friends. His eye has become keener, and his pen sharper, but his personality is turning in my opinion more and more introverted. Readers who had hopes of finding out more about his married life will also be disappointed, but maybe not surprised, by his coyness and reluctance to spill out the goods, even as he seems to be an avid consumer of other peoples domestic tragi-comedies. Nick does make a good argument for his discretion, but I still feel the author could have been more open about his own marriage: A future marriage, or a past one, may be investigated and explained in terms of writing by one of its parties, but it is doubtful whether an existing marriage can ever be described directly in the first person and convey a sense of reality. Even those writers who suggest some of the substance of married life best, stylise heavily, losing the subtlety of the relationship at the price of a few accurately recorded, but isolated, aspects. To think at all objectively about ones own marriage is impossible, while a balanced view of other peoples marriage is almost equally hard to achieve with so much information available, so little to be believed. Objectivity is not, of course, everything in writing; but even after one has cast objectivity aside, the difficulties of presenting marriage are inordinate. Its forms are at once so varied, yet so constant, providing a kaleidoscope, the colours of which are always changing, always the same. The moods of a love affair, the contradictions of friendship, the jealousy of business partners, the fellow feeling of opposed commanders in total war, these are all in their way to be charted. Marriage, partaking of such - and a thousand more - dual antagonisms and participations, finally defies definition. Keeping an open mind is for Nick, and by implication for Powell, the most important quality in a writer. Observe but dont judge, learn something new every day, but never believe you have found the ultimate answer to all Lifes questions - especially where Women and emotions are involved. Do you remember that night at Casanovas Chinese Restaurant years ago? We talked about seducers and Don Juan and that sort of thing. The painter, Barnby, was there. I believe you were with us too, werent you, Jenkins? (view spoiler)[ Do you remember when he talked of suicide in Casanovas? (hide spoiler)]

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