The author of the award-winning, two-volume Matisse: A Life, now gives us the biography of literary master Anthony Powell—the critic, editor, and novelist known as "the English Proust"—that, at the same time, takes us deep into 20th century London literary life.
... excellent ... Spurling, a veteran biographer most notably of Matisse, writes with her accustomed savvy ... [Powell's] books are unlikely ever to be placed on the top shelf of twentieth-century literature, but they deserve to appear on the one below. A Dance to the Music of Time is a remarkable achievement, as is Spurling’s biography of its author.
It’s thorough, judicious (except for her annoying insistence on calling Powell 'Tony'), and gracefully written, and it renders obsolete an earlier, chattier biography by Michael Barber. Spurling takes the greatness of Music of Time pretty much as a given and doesn’t spend a lot of time on literary appreciation. She is at some pains, though, to dispel the widespread notion that the books can’t be much good because their author was a toff—a snob, a name-dropper, a mossbacked Tory ... Spurling isn’t obsessive about pointing out all the parallels between fiction and reality, but her book quickly makes it apparent that, in one way or another, almost everything that takes place in the novel actually happened to Powell ... Spurling says that he was also genial (at least to people he liked), curious, a wonderful listener, and a tireless, heroic reader, and there’s no reason to doubt her ... as often happens when we get older, he fossilized into someone his younger self would scarcely have recognized.
... sensitive and sharply written ... Without fawning, [Spurling] warms Powell up. She places his work in social and intellectual perspective, and briskly lays bare a life rich with friendship and incident ... Spurling, writing with style and spark, pulls Powell down from his chilly pinnacle. It’s a pleasure to meet him all over again.