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Like the Afton, Powell's roman fleuve flows gently to its close--this being the twelfth and last volume of the grand design imperceptibly intersected through appearing and disappearing characters from before WW I until now, a very present day. There will surely be all-encompassing critical wrap-ups. (One very magniloquent one has already appeared in England scuttling from Homer to Jane Austen, Zola, Proust, Eliot, James, Gide, Balzac, Stendhal--even Sarraute and Butor.) More importantly, the complete work will now be simultaneously republished which will enable it to be read, as it should be, without the interruption of both years and forgetfulness. This last is by no means as strong a book as its predecessor, Temporary Kings, which took place almost a decade earlier. It is rather meager in span and activity. There are few survivors left--Nicholas Jenkins of course; the American Gwinnett who appeared in the last book; and the lynchpin of the series, the power dealer Widmerpool who has been so humiliated of late and is trying to retrieve his much reduced self through a mystic, hippy commune led by the ominous Scorpio Murtlock. This caravan of cultists is marvelously introduced in the opening scene via Fiona, the Jenkins' niece, seen in her long skirt with her long unwashed feet (""medieval""). So are many of their rituals which leads Powell to add still another sphere to his Music of Time--the gnostic and arcane--and at the dose Widmerpool makes his last, frenetically desperate appearance by the light of the dawn. Time alone will ultimately judge this work which is so civilized, pleasurable and unemphatic in tone--humming with casual talk, speculation, revelation. But how artfully it has created and crossbred discrete worlds--social, artistic, political and now, in the farthest reaches of life, metaphysical--to structure a universe all its own as well as ours.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1976
Publisher: Little, Brown