When you come to review a book, it’s always a matter of choosing some aspect to focus on – themes, writing style, historical context, number of laughs, or whatever it might be. Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant reminds me of writing a review. Author, Anthony Powell looks at his life experience, trying to sum it up in a few hundred pages, which is a bit like a reviewer trying to sum up a novel in a few paragraphs.
In this book, there is an overlap in time with earlier volumes of Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time sequence. We start in the aftermath of World War Two, a bombed-out pub evoking memories of people our narrator Nick Jenkins had once met there. Using the pub as a stepping off point, we go back to the 1930s and see aspects of Nick’s life which had been invisible in earlier accounts of this period. He picks up on a different set of details, a different life almost, amongst musical friends we weren’t aware of before.
By looking at a period in his life again, Nick explores familiar themes of finding retrospective patterns. But this account of different events in a story we thought we already knew, suggests the indefinable nature of life’s patterns. The patterns found today might be different to those discovered tomorrow.
The name Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant offered one of those unequivocal blendings of disparate elements of the imagination which suggest a whole new state of mind or way of life. The idea of Casanova giving his name to a Chinese restaurant linked not only the East with the West, the present with the past, but also, more parochially, suggested by its own incongruity an immensely suitable place for all of us to have dinner that night.
As usual with this series, Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant is very funny in an understated way. This instalment also had rather more drama and tragedy than usual, all of which we missed the last time.
That’s my review. I could write a different one next week, but this is my best effort for now.