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Agents and Patients

A Novel

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 Agents and Patients, we return to London with the newly wealthy, memorably named Blore-Smith: an innocent, decent enough chap . . . and a drip. Vulnerable to the machinations of those with less money and more lust, Blore-Smith falls victim to two con artists whose ploys carry him through to the art galleries and whorehouses of Paris, Berlin, and beyond.
 
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.

224 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 1936

Fiction

Reviews

“A master of irony . . . a writer of social comedy as revelatory as any written by Evelyn Waugh or Henry Green.”

Leo Lerman | New York Times

“Elegantly casual and scandalously funny.”

Charles Poore | New York Times

“Looking back at Powell’s earlier novels, it is possible to see him discovering there how to use his razor-sharp satirical sense until it is purged of bitterness and extravagance.”

Elizabeth Janeway | New York Times

“Anthony Powell is our foremost comic writer.”

V. S. Pritchett

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