Time’s Changing Tempo

A great European novel says much about its age of crisis – and ours. 

Thomas Mann, author of The Magic Mountain, 1930 © Ullstein Bild/Getty Images.

There has probably never been a better time to read long novels, or even a cycle of them, than the last 12 months – at least if you’re working from home, with a bit of space and free of such challenges as home schooling. 

Perceptions of time have changed a great deal over the year and many of the novels I’ve read recently, more than for many years, have been concerned with its passing. For example, Anthony Powell’s cycle, A Dance to the Music of Time. It takes its title from Poussin’s painting of the same name, which suggests to the narrator an inability, common to all of us, to control the melody of life as it unfolds (and it includes a pen portrait of my predecessor at History Today, Peter Quennell). 

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