University of Chicago Press, 1995. First published in England.
Review published Sep 2017.
We open with Nick Jenkins who is in his last year of school. His closest friends (a group which adds and subtracts characters from time to time) are headed in slightly different directions, all intending to make their way in finance, art, or social circles in the highly stratified society of the 1920s and 1930s. One of the more odd young men, Kenneth Widmerpool, reappears from time to time and we grow to appreciate him; Stringham, who at the beginning seemed to be the most likely to succeed, seems to lose his way along the line.
Jenkins, a writer who finds work in an art publications house, appears to be a passive observer, as a first-person narrator he seems at first to be an empty vessel, but we learn that his observations are pretty acute. Even people observed from a distance, like professors and elders, or politically different types like Gypsy and her mates, are sharply drawn.
Vivid, often funny, slow moving but a thorough portrait of the times, it reminded me of Proust; others have mentioned that as well.
I'm not sure I'll read the rest (it is, after all, twelve novels marketed in four trilogies) but I did enjoy my ride so far.