Arthur Phillips is the bestselling author of The Egyptologist and Prague, which was a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. His most recent novel, Angelica, comes out in paperback in February.
I admit to having bought a book for its cover. For years I had seen the four spines of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time lined up on bookstore shelves and admired them, wished the spines – which together form a Poussin painting – were up on my own. And so I bought the first book, dove in for no reason except coveting the covering, without having any idea what I was about to read.
Pretentious claim, for which I apologize, but here it is: a few years earlier, I read the whole damn In Search of Lost Time (or whatever you want to call it), and the payoff at its end, after all the toil and pleasure, is no more powerful than a similar payoff at the end of Powell. You finish both with the sensation of having spent a long lifetime at the side of the narrator. You have the same feeling of nostalgia, profundity, passing years, lives led and finished, the power of a master of letters guiding you to the illusion of lived experience.
That said, Powell is also funny, really funny, which is a claim I do not think can be made for Proust without straining something – credulity or a groin muscle.