Afternoon Men’ by Anthony Powell – Wayward Young Men and Women

 

‘Afternoon Men’ by Anthony Powell    (1931) – 221 pages

 

This is a novel about young men and young women in England in the early 1930s, but it will surely be real to life for many of us today.

These are young men and young women in their early twenties. The young men are volatile and unpredictable. The young women are capricious. Because that’s the way both sexes are at that age, wayward. Everything, including the future, is still up in the air.

There is lots of partying and drinking and camaraderie, a lot of dialogue. The writer Anthony Powell (rhymes with Lowell) captured the dynamics of this situation better than anyone else in his first novel ‘Afternoon Men’ which was published in 1931 when he was 25.

The main young guy to watch for is William Atwater, since he is in every scene and sees and hears all that is happening. Much of what is going on is light and amusing, but sometimes it is deadly serious. All is presented in a brisk fashion.

Atwater works in a museum. He finds his job dull, as most jobs right after college are dull. He spends most of his time away from the job socializing with his friends and drinking. He has a couple of close young woman friends, of which one Susan Nunnery he wants to get even closer despite her resistance. His two best male friends are Raymond Pringle and Hector Barlow, both of whom are toying with careers in creating art.

One of the many things that Anthony Powell captures in this novel is the way these young men and women talk, as there is much dialogue in ‘Afternoon Men’. Here is Atwater talking to Susan Nunnery between fights on a boxing night he has taken her to:

She said: “You’re rather sweet really.”

Aren’t I?”

Yes. But that’s how I feel.”

Anyway, I never see you, so it doesn’t make any difference.”

Well, if it doesn’t make any difference.”

Exactly.”

Don’t be like that,” she said.

Why not.”

I don’t like it.”

Nonsense.”

No,” she said. “I don’t.”

It can’t be helped. I’m like that.”

You’re being such a bore.”

I know.”

She said: “Why not be nice? You’re so nice sometimes.”

I don’t feel nice today.”

Anthony Powell as a writer is not flashy, and the power of his work will only creep up on you. Later, after ‘Afternoon Men’, Powell would write one of the lasting pillars of 20th century literature, the twelve-volume ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’. Each volume of that work is a separate stand-alone novel, although with the same characters. I have only put a couple of dents into that structure having read only 2 or 3 of its novels. However after reading ‘Afternoon Men’, I probably will be putting more dents into it.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

 

9 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Tony! Enjoyed the review as always, particularly as this one’s been on my TBR forever & ever. I HAVE read Powell’s great Dance to the Music of Time; twice actually. What a masterpiece! I’d had a copy for years, mostly because I liked the cover (!!!) & had tried to read it a couple of times, with no success. Then — I just read it and enjoyed it but — somewhat less than did the critics. A few years later I went on a very long trip and decided to take it with me as my main reading material; that time around, I absolutely couldn’t put it down and, finally, saw what all the fuss was about. Powell really IS the English Proust, in many ways (in Dance, as a matter of fact, the main character, who’s a British officer during WWII, visits Proust’s birthplace or something like that. Hint!). So I will definitely read Afternoon Men, just a question of when.
    Did you know there’s a British series of Dance? It’s quite old but supposed to be really great.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Janajay,
      No, I didn’t know there was a British series of Dance. I see that it is highly rated but seems to have very limited availability.
      You are the only person that I have heard who has read the entire Dance series and even twice. At first I was more impressed with flashy writers like Evelyn Waugh and Henry Green, but I am figuring out now what an outstanding writer Anthony Powell is.
      I have also read Powell’s stand alone novel ‘O How the Wheel Becomes It’ which I also thought was extremely well done.

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      Reply

      • Now it’s MY turn to be in awe! Henry Green! He’s one of my 2022 resolutions, as I picked up a lot of his books during one of the NYRB Classics sales. I’ve read only one of his novels, I think it was Loving. I found him challenging, which is to say, a bit lost on me, so I put him on my list for a re-match. Have you read Ivy Compton-Burnett? My reaction to her work was the same. Incomprehension but, whenI went back years later I absolutely adored her work. She’s now one of my favs.
        I also haven’t read much by Waugh. I did love Brideshead Revisited (doesn’t everyone) but it’s so atypical of his work I’m not sure it counts.
        I had hoped that the Dance series was now more widely available. When I first checked it out, years and years ago, it was only on the format unavailable in the U.S.. I was thinking it might now be available to stream. Oh well, I knew there was some reason I hadn’t watched it!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply

        • Hi Janakay,
          I tried reading Ivy Conpton-Burnett several years ago, but unfortunately I’m still in the incomprehension phase with her. I may need to try again.
          Back in the early 1990s, they issued this three volume collection of Henry Green which included ‘Living’, ‘Loving’, and ‘Party Going’. I thought all three were wonderful, and have since read a couple of his others and have never been disappointed. People do tend to have problems with his work because he is so different, but I took to him right away.
          Evelyn Waugh was an early favorite of mine, and I haven’t read him for a long time. Perhaps my favorite of his is the novella ‘The Loved One’, his satire about the California funeral industry. He is more broadly humorous than Powell or Green.

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  2. Firstly, I love that Penguin cover.
    And secondly, I’ve read the whole series of Dance, I really liked it, especially the early volumes.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, I thought the Penguin cover is pretty neat also. So you also have read the entire ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’. I did not realize you were such an Anthony Powell (rhymes with Lowell) fan.

      Like

      Reply

  3. Somebody told me it was like Proust.
    It isn’t, but it’s still really good to read!

    Like

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