Books Do Furnish a Room (1971) is the tenth of Anthony Powell's twelve-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time
Books Do Furnish a Room follows straight on from the preceding trio of war volumes (The Valley of Bones (1964), The Soldier's Art (1966), and The Military Philosophers (1968)) and takes place in the immediate post-war period of 1946 and 1947. It is strange, and informative, to read an evocation of the atmosphere of post-war austerity in England, a period that doesn't appear to feature too often in literature (in contrast to the pre-War years and the war itself).
As the title suggests, Books Do Furnish a Room is about publishing, and specifically the publishers, Quiggins and Craggs, and their new literary magazine Fission, who Nick Jenkins joins. Plenty of pre-war characters reappear, along with a younger bohemian crowd most notably the up-and-coming novelist X. Trapnel (famously based upon a literary hero of mine Julian Maclaren-Ross). From what I know of Julian Maclaren-Ross, X. Trapnel appears to be a fairly faithful rendition of his personality, and his strengths and foibles.
At the start of Books Do Furnish a Room we discover that narrator Nick Jenkins is writing a study of Robert Burton author of "The Anatomy of Melancholy", which was first published in 1621. I had never heard of Burton, or his book, but was inspired to find out more. The full title of The Anatomy of Melancholy is"The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up" which I think gives a good indication of what the reader might expect. Nick Jenkins makes numerous small references to Burton throughout this volume which doubtless adds yet another layer of enjoyment for Robert Burtonaficionados.
After the formality of the war years, Books Do Furnish a Roomcontains more humour and Anthony Powell seems to consciously add in more comedy including one of the most funniest accounts of a funeral I have ever read.
Pamela Flitton, who we first encounter in The Military Philosophers, continues to live up to her billing as the ultimate femme fatale and, once again, wreaks havoc. She is a wonderful literary creation.
Meanwhile, our narrator, Nick Jenkins, now in middle age returns to both his university and his school in this volume which provokes reacquaintance with some old characters, and reflections on his younger self.
As with previous volumes, this book is funny, wise, compelling and addictive. Taken as a whole, A Dance to the Music of Time is really something special. Now, with only two volumes left to read, my heart is heavy at the prospect of finishing this magnificent work of literature. It is one of the best things I have ever read and I will be revisiting these books again.