‘What’s Become of Waring’ by Anthony Powell (1939) – 236 pages Grade: B+
“People think that because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that.” – Anthony Powell
So far I’ve read three of the twelve novels that make up ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ as well as the separate novels ‘O How the Wheel Becomes It’ and now ‘What’s Become of Waring’ by Anthony Powell. What spurred my interest in ‘What’s Become of Waring’ was an old fascinating review at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings which described in detail Powell’s sly technique of allowing the reader to figure out what’s coming even before the narrator figures it out.
Anthony Powell was a writer of subtle and dry wit whose sense of humor wasn’t always readily apparent. When I was younger, I preferred writers like Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis whose humor was broader and more obvious, but now I find myself returning to Powell on occasion.
“It is not what happens to people that is significant, but what they think happens to them.” – Anthony Powell
Here is the plot of ‘What’s Become of Waring’. The publishing house of Judkins & Judkins has recently found out that one of its best selling travel writers, T. T. Waring, has died. Waring “was the almost perfect exemplar of a form of wooly writing that appeals to uncritical palates”, but of whom no one with literary taste “could stomach those tinny echoes of a biblical style, much diluted with popular journalism.” Since “there is no way of proving that writing is good or bad”, Waring’s reputation as a remarkable traveler was secure.
In order to cash in on Waring’s celebrity immediately after he died, the publishers hire our narrator to research his life and write a biography. Soon our narrator, as well as we readers, discovers that travel writer T. T. Waring is a fraud.
Anthony Powell had written four novels before this one so he was quire familiar with the publishing business, and his ironic insights into the business are quite acute.
‘What’s Become of Waring’ is a novel of its time, written just before the outbreak of World War II. Somehow names like Eustace and Beryl seem out of date. Several of the scenes take place at séances which were meetings of friends who try to communicate with dead people. These séances were a quite popular entertainment in England during the 1930s.
Perhaps someday I will again pick up ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’. For now, this early Anthony Powell novel will sustain me.