In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

November 2017

 - Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Last month I spent a blissful week on the west coast of Ireland, staying in an old granite house at the end of a small town, on the beautiful Ring of Kerry. I had already started to read Niall William’s History of Rain, so when I returned to dry old NSW, I positively jumped on it with renewed enthusiasm. Set in Co. Clare, in a town called Faha on the banks of the Shannon, it’s an elegy to rain, and to the river and the fish that swim in it. Narrated by a bedbound girl call Ruth Swain, who slowly unwinds the history of her family, with an undercurrent of the books she is reading as a homage to her poet father, Virgil Swain. Reading is a legacy in the family, and the books themselves surround her in her attic room, in the boatlike bed that her father built her. Tragedy and misfortune could overwhelm the family, but somehow Ruth continues her vocation of reading, and through that finds meaning. If this makes the book seem overly serious, it’s not—it’s humorous and insightful, with a genuine sense of place and people.Before I went to Ireland, I was in London for a week. Having not been back there since I was five, I was somewhat overwhelmed by it. We walked all day, and read all night. I was reading the last three books of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. Much of this extraordinary work is set in London, pre-War and post-War, and the author captures that time vividly. Nick Jenkins, possibly literature’s least self referential narrator, is a thinly disguised version of the author, and the novels’ over 300 characters are nearly all based on people Anthony Powell knew. I’ve read these books many times, and I enjoy them more with each reading. Books give us different things at different times of our lives, and these 12 books respond particularly well to rereading. I’m really looking forward to Hilary Spurling’s Anthony Powell: A Life, and I can recommend her Invitation to the Dance: A Handbook to Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, a most useful companion for anyone embarking on the twelve books. Louise