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Setting the World on Fire

de Angus Wilson

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At the end of the Second World War Piers and his younger brother Tom are growing up at Tothill House, the family home with its magnificent baroque hall by Vanbrugh. Tom is the pluckier of the two, because pluck means overcoming one's fears. Piers has no such fears to overcome; he is ambitious. As the post-war years witness a division in their aspirations and their destinies, the two brothers strive to achieve their own means of setting the world on fire.With rich characterization, virtuoso scenes of comedy, and sparkling dialogue,Setting the World On Fire provides a brilliant anatomy of post-war English society from 1948 to 1969.'It is superb entertainment and social criticism but it is also a poem about the fire in human beings ... A moving and disturbing book and a very superior piece of art.' Anthony Burgess, Observer.… (més)
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At first this seemed not to be a promising novel; however, having read Wilson novels earlier I persisted and was rewarded.
The novel catches the prevailing moods in England in three sections; Part 1 - 1948, Part 2 (and the bulk of the novel - (1956-1957) and Part 3 - 1969. The two main characters are brothers, Piers, who has a mind full of dreams for a wonderful future for himself, and Tom a dearly loved brother, who looks at life less sanguinely. They are sons of a wealthy banking family (the Mossons) who have inhabited Tothill House in Westminster for centuries.
The legend of Phaethon forms a central theme to the novel. The fall of Phaethon is grandly depicted on the ceiling of Tothill House and a production of Lully's opera in the house is the setting for Piers' tour de force and his means of "setting the world on fire".
The world has moved on from the manners and hypocrisies of mid-Twentieth Century monied wealth. However, that world is sharply observed by Wilson. He's a master at mannered dialogue. There is fine comedy, eccentricity and a convincing treatment of the evolving mentalities of the characters through the decades. And a thunderbolt ending that references Zeus' drastic elimination of Phaethon when the latter loses control.
  ivanfranko | Apr 14, 2022 |
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At the end of the Second World War Piers and his younger brother Tom are growing up at Tothill House, the family home with its magnificent baroque hall by Vanbrugh. Tom is the pluckier of the two, because pluck means overcoming one's fears. Piers has no such fears to overcome; he is ambitious. As the post-war years witness a division in their aspirations and their destinies, the two brothers strive to achieve their own means of setting the world on fire.With rich characterization, virtuoso scenes of comedy, and sparkling dialogue,Setting the World On Fire provides a brilliant anatomy of post-war English society from 1948 to 1969.'It is superb entertainment and social criticism but it is also a poem about the fire in human beings ... A moving and disturbing book and a very superior piece of art.' Anthony Burgess, Observer.

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