April 26, 2010

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: Review

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Let's get this straight right off the bat; Evelyn is a dude. 'Kay? Did you know that? Cause I didn't.

Anyway... In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder is in the army in England when his Company takes over an old estate for their headquarters. The place is a wreck now but Charles has been here before. Back when it was a stately home to an aristocratic family...

Cue the Lost-style Flashback soundtrack.

When Charles was in Oxford, he met this strange guy named Sebastian Flyte, a 19 year old who carries around a teddy bear he calls Aloysius and talks to like a person. Weird, right? Well, Charles is charmed by him and they strike up a friendship. After hearing a few stories about Sebastian's family, Charles wants to meet them. Sebastian doesn't like this idea and several other people warn Charles about the family. They're all afraid he will fall for them and get entangled in their drama.

So what's the drama? Lord Marchmain (the Dad) hated his wife so much he ran off to live in Italy with his mistress. Lady Marchmain refuses to divorce him because she's Super Catholic and this is just not done, even though she has a secret boyfriend. This has messed Sebastian up.When Charles does meet them, he falls in love with all of them which does not sit well with Sebastian. He takes to spiteful drinking and making scenes in front of the Christmas guests. This causes many "we need to talk about Sebastian" moments. Charles declares that if they leave him alone, he'd give it up but after a 'little talk' with the Mom, he's sent packing.

Years go by, Charles grows up and has his own life but ends up meeting one of the Clan and gets tangled up in New Drama. It doesn't end well and Flashforward... 

We're back in the army.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh seems like a book about nothing in particular but is packed with nostalgia for a different age. When the Marchmains are introduced, I had the feeling that they were sitting around like they were part of a museum exhibit. The world around them was changing but they were waiting for the eventual end of theirs.

This was a book club selection and the first half of the book caused some discussion about Charles and Sebastian's relationship. Were they or weren't they? There were lots of clues that felt a little like Mr Smithers in the first few seasons of The Simpsons: they spent all their time together, Julia (sister) calls them 'special friends' (wink, wink), and Charles gets a little excited when he meets Julia- not just because she has girl parts but because she looks like Sebastian.

Then there's religion. Religion is a hot button issue for Charles since he doesn't have much of it and the Marchmains have plenty. There is lots of discussions about 'the right thing' and hand wringing about when to call the priest in, etc that cause Charles boatloads of frustration.

This was actually quite an enjoyable book. Waugh brings the reader right into the 1920-30s before the destruction of the war. It feels like you are there. The characters are complex and I'm still unsure about the motivation of some of them. This is definitely a book to get lost in.

Highly recommended

*That's my book up there. The bear threw me until I read the book but wow what a suit! I must get one, I always wanted to look like a giant inverted triangle.

Other reviews:
Michelle's Masterful Musings
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11 comments :

  1. Bookfool, aka NancyApril 29, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    Yes, I knew Evelyn Waugh was a dude and have known that for many years because I read Brideshead Revisited probably about a decade ago. And, it's pronounced EEV-linn. I found that out when I toured Oxford, England, and went past Mercury (the fountain -- I think Sebastian was "dipped in Mercury"?). It was right about that point that my camera died, but I found a shop that sold disposables cheap and bought about a dozen of them. Ah, England, how I love thee. I think Brideshead Revisited is a marvelous book and I adore the 80's mini-series.

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  2. I've been tiptoeing around this book for years...intimidated to read it, though I don't know why. Now I'm ready. Hope I can find that same copy!

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  3. Don't forget to get the shoes, too!

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  4. So glad that you enjoyed this - isn't it wonderful?! I think that the introductory chapter where Charles is in the army is really one of the classics of the English language that I have read. I love how you have bought out the heavy nostaligia in your clearsighted review Thanks for sharing!! Hannah

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  5. Something so melancholy about this book. But the thirties are my period....

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  6. This review was just flat-out entertaining to read. You have a really enjoyable style! I've heard whisperings of this book, but never really knew what it was about. It sounds intriguing - I'll have to check it out!

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  7. I've only recently learned Evelyn is a he, and it was shocking. I've seen the most recent movie adaptation and really liked it. I saw it at the arty cinema here. However, I have a strong feeling the book would put me to sleep. Glad you've enjoyed it.

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  8. I'm always intimidated by books like this, so I'm very impressed that you read it!

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  9. I've never read Waugh, but I feel like he's having some sort of resurgence. That is, there were many new editions of his books available at Borders when I was there the other day. They all looked pretty, but I think if I were to read a first book by him, it would definitely be this one.

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  10. I have this book on my shelves and have of course been meaning to read it for forever, but never really started it. Your review makes it look more appealing though, so I might read it soon. I didn't know Evelyn was a guy either, until I made the embarrassing mistake of calling him a she in front of friends who did know it was a man.

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  11. What a great review! I have wanted to read this for so long. And yes it wasn't until bookblogging that I found out EW was a dude.

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