Passion in Privatenby Car] C. CurtisnA Bottle in the Smokenby A.N. WilsonnNew York: Viking; 320 pp., $18.95nOver the last ten years, A.N. Wilsonnhas been compared to thengreat 20th-century English satirists:nWaugh, Amis, and Barbara Pym. Nownthat he is in the process of writing antrilogy, it was inevitable that some criticnwould add to these the name of AnthonynPowell. Of course, publishers like toncompare the work of older, establishednwriters beside that of the young turksnwhose wares they hawk. As Scroogenmight say of them, they are good businessmen.nYet in this case the comparison is just.nTrue, A Dance to the Music of Time isnfour times longer than Wilson’s twothirds-finishedntrilogy and its pacing isnslower, partly because of its greaternlength and partly too because ofnPowell’s more deliberate style. But, likenPowell’s, Wilson’s purpose is to projectnimages of an age in England now pastnbut the effects of which are still with us.nSimilar, too, is Wilson’s method ofntelling the story through the largelynintrospective camera’s eye of a firstpersonnnarrator, a device that necessarilynhas its limits. We see only what NicknJenkins or Wilson’s Julian Ramsaynsees, know only the people they know.nBecause such men are not earthshakersnand hence do not walk among thengreat, our glimpse of their England isnmore private than public.nExperience demonstrates, however,nthat the private either invigorates orndeadens the public. One can read bothnPowell and Wilson without fear ofnmissing much of the age they chronicle.nIf the reader doubts whether this isnpossible, he need only ask himself if henwould acquire a better understandingnof England’s march toward pragmatic,nself-serving collectivism if he read anbiography of Atlee or Bevan instead ofnA Dance to the Music of Time, with itsnportrayal of the climber Widmerpool.nWith results similar to Powell’s, Wilsonnhas created Raphael Hunter, anself-appointed voice of British culture.nHunter first appears in the inauguralnvolume of the trilogy. Incline OurnHearts, while Julian Ramsay is at anschool for boys, Seaforth Grange. Julian,norphaned in the middle of the war,nlives between terms in the town ofnTemplingham with his Aunt Deirdrenand Uncle Roy, an Anglican priest.nTypical of the age, his upbringing isnnot religious. Aunt Deirdre’s two mainninterests are her garden and a radionsoap called “The Mulberrys.” UnclenRoy’s passion in life is neither God nornhis wife. He has spent his days memorizingnevery available bit of lore concerningnan eccentric family of the localngentry, the Lampitts. Sargie Lampitt isnUncle Roy’s dearest companion andnfavorite topic of conversation. Whethernhe would bother to help save a soul isnan open question; it is certain that henwould (and does) buttonhole a completenstranger in a railway station to talknto him about the Lampitts. Not thatnthe family lacks fame: J. Petworthn”Jimbo” Lampitt was a famous Edwardiannbelletrist, much in the mode ofnPater. Other Lampitts, all leftist of onendegree or another, have held governmentnposts great and small. But thentalents and accomplishments of a familynthat not one in a thousand couldnidentify hardly seems worth the effortnUncle Roy invests in them. That hendoes anyhow is Wilson’s way of highlightingnthe rather genial decadence ofnRoy’s and Sargie’s generation. Moreover,nas the story progresses from Julian’snteens in Incline Our Hearts to hisneariy manhood in A Bottle in thenSmoke, the Lampitts provide thenground for the alternating friendshipnand enmity of Julian Ramsay andnRaphael Hunter.nLess genial and more decadent.nHunter unthinkingly and unfeelinglynbrings pain into the lives of Julian andnthose close to him. The first time thenteenager Julian sees him is an embarrassingnmoment at Seaforth Grange.nComing around a corner he notices inna window the bare back of his artnmistress and first love being stroked bynHunter, a man approximately in hisnlate 20’s. The incident might be nonmore, for Julian, than an insignificantnand inevitable instance of adolescentnheartbreak. But it proves to be typicalnof Hunter’s way of life. He leaves thenart mistress in the lurch for anothernwhom, rumor says, he will marry. Yearsnlater, Julian discovers that Hunter nevernmarried her at all. Instead he tooknwhat he could from the liaisons withnnnboth women, and left without a twingenof conscience. In an almost identicalnmanner. Hunter comes to Templinghamnto meet Sargie Lampitt. His statednpurpose is to write a biography ofnPetworth Lampitt. Quickly, he enlistsnthe aid of Julian’s cousin, Felicity, getsnher with child, and departs with thenpapers in his care, leaving her at thenmercy of a back-street abortionist.nWhen, on a call to see Felicity,nUncle Roy and Aunt Deirdre pressnhim about his family and education, hensays he never went to either Oxford ornCambridge and changes the subject.nHe is completely and charminglynMachiavellian in his use of people,nand, apparently in his own mind, innocentnof all wrongdoing. Women adorenhim, not because he is a passionatenlover (he isn’t anything of the kind) butnbecause they want to evoke from himnthe same kind of passion he makesnthem feel.nHunter’s willing victim in A Bottlenin the Smoke is Julian’s wife Anne.nBy a curious twist of fate, she isnSargie’s niece, a fact Julian does notnknow when he meets and falls in lovenwith her. By this time, Julian is annaspiring novelist and actor — he cannotnmake up his mind which — and a parttimenbartender at a local pub, the BlacknBotrie. Hunter is now a regular acquaintancenand a BBC television celebrity.nHis fame stems from the firstnvolume of the Lampitt biography, butnthe second volume remains unwritten.nThis is partially due to Hunter’s laziness,nbut also to the Lampitts, whonfound the book offensive and refuse tonlet him use the rest of “Jimbo’s” papers.nHaving an affair with Anne isnreally a calculated ploy to secure thencopyright. By the end of the book, henhas succeeded — his reputation, as always,nuntarnished — and is in a betternposition than ever to tell the Britishnpublic what it ought to admire innliterature and art. That a marriage hasnbeen destroyed is no concern of his.nJulian, meanwhile, is not a famousnwriter but a radio actor on, of all things.nAunt Deirdre’s beloved “The Mulberrys.”nThere is no way a short review canndo justice to this outstanding novel. Fornone thing, the trilogy still has onenvolume to go. What is more, the novelnabounds with characters too eccentricnto describe here, some of the mostnMAY 1991/41n