Unsavory artists, titled boobs, and charlatans with an affinity for Freud—such are the oddballs whose antics animate the early novels of the late British master Anthony Powell. A genius of social satire delivered with a very dry wit, Powell builds his comedies on the foibles of British high society between the wars, delving into subjects as various as psychoanalysis, the film industry, publishing, and (of course) sex. More explorations of relationships and vanity than plot-driven narratives, these slim novels reveal the early stirrings of the unequaled style, ear for dialogue, and eye for irony that would reach their caustic peak in Powell’s epic A Dance to the Music of Time.
In What’s Become of Waring, Powell lampoons a world with which he was intimately acquainted: the inner workings of a small London publisher. But even as Powell eviscerates the publishers’ less than scrupulous plotting in his tale of wild coincidences, mistaken identity, and romance, he never strays to the far side of farce.
Written from a vantage point both high and necessarily narrow, Powell’s early novels nevertheless deal in the universal themes that would become a substantial part of his oeuvre: pride, greed, and what makes people behave as they do. Filled with eccentric characters and piercing insights, Powell’s work is achingly hilarious, human, and true.