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review 2017-07-13 17:47
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

This book has been on my “to read” list for several years.  Given I knew only the synopsis on Goodreads, I had my own idea of what the book would be already formulated before I read the first page.  I suspected a summer tale, three months of glorious fun for two university pals.  This presumption wasn’t far off, but Waugh’s story goes further than romping around in the sunshine. 

The tale of a convoluted family and the witness of their stark emotional lives, Charles Ryder, explores spiritual responsibility and morality.  Despite this heavy subject, I did not feel as if religious opinion was being shoved down my throat, nor did I feel as if I was rifling through a bible. Like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway, Charles Ryder is the eye over a high and mighty set of people, albeit less glamorous.  

The Marchmains are so pious that they have left very little room for common decency.  And they’re not even truly pious. Mrs. Marchmain’s religious conviction is just as much a form of escapism as Sebastian’s drinking.  While reading this book all I could think about was how everyone just wanted to run away and free themselves from themselves.  Except no one could find a way to do it.  Instead, each person just sunk deeper into what complicated their lives in the first place, be it guilt, drunkenness, or obsession.  I can’t say I would read the book again, but I liked the story while I was in it and I appreciated the prose, even if the characters were icy and impulsive.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-07-12 06:36
Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
Some books are so well written, so rich in language and expression, that it makes me wonder if writers today possess the same level of facility. That's one of the thoughts I had as I was reading Brideshead Revisited, a bitter, nostalgic, beautiful novel published by Evelyn Waugh in 1945. This story is so personal and so distinctive in tone, I feel it could only have come from one man. That sounds like faint praise, but in reality, a lot of the books I read are very formulaic, lacking any semblance of original expression. And that's ok - those books are a certain sort of entertainment - diversions, we might call them - thrilling, sometimes moving, but not art. 
There are so many aspects to this novel that interested me. Let me briefly account for a couple of them:
Homosexuality - I know nothing about Waugh's life, whether he was drawing on personal experience in depicting the nature of young, gay men and the way these men were perceived within their society. There are several characters who reference the love between Charles and Sebastian - I'm thinking of the woman Cara involved with Lord Marchmain and what she tells Charles about this love, in which she excuses it as an early dalliance before settling down. I think also of how Charles tells Julia that it was a "prelude," and to what extent he truly felt or believed that. But the character of Anthony Blanche is another fascinating part of this picture, as he discusses the beatings he received in school and we see the underground bars he is forced to frequent. All of this falls into the novel's distinct mixing of comedy and tragedy that Waugh handles so brilliantly.
Roman Catholicism - A major theme to the book. I did understand the way Roman Catholics were out of place in England at that time, at least in the author's mind, but this is something I truly can't feel within me, as I feel that England is so different today in this respect. The sense of class decorum that pervades the story is so foreign to our modern sensibilities. Not even the royal family behaves or thinks in these ways anymore. So this aspect of the story seemed like an unfortunate backwardness to me. 
I did feel a small disappointment in Waugh's handling of Julia and Charles' parting, which comes off as a hurried decision. If this was how he wanted to leave it, let's have it in a conversation that unfolds at a more understandable pace. I feel the end could have used ten more pages to it. None of this, however, mars the overall work enough to slight it a star. 
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review 2015-02-22 18:11
Not quite as I remembered it
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

Well, I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. There were parts of it I adored and parts I couldn’t care less about and wouldn’t have missed if they’d been omitted. But, before I get into that allow me to go back a few decades.


I was in my late teens when I saw the television series of Brideshead Revisited and all I can say is that I was fascinated by the story, the characters, the setting and the period it portrayed. I fell in love with Sebastian and Charles and eagerly awaited each new episode. When I picked up this book I expected to fall in love all over again.


I guess sometimes it is wiser to leave old loves in the past and not try to revive them. The vague images I had in my head and the – rather limited – memory I had of the story would have been enough to keep me mesmerized for the rest of my life. Reading the book now - 30 odd years after first seeing the story – has removed a lot of the glamour from my memories. Which of course means this is anything but a fair review of the book. This is an essay about how my selective memory stands up to the reality of the written word. As it turns out, the written word never stood a chance.


So, back to the story as I found it in the book. I adored the first part of the book. The developing relationship between Charles and Sebastian drew me in and fascinated me. The twenty years between the two World Wars and the ways in which the world changed make for intriguing reading. I watched the interactions between the characters in this book with growing repulsion. Nobody seemed to really connect with others or even want to make the effort to look below the surface. The moment characters did allow themselves to discover the hidden depths in others, almost invariably meant the end of the relationship. All of this kept me turning the pages but in a similar way I would if I were reading a science fiction story; it intrigued me but a lot of it was incomprehensible to me.


To me this read as an extensive story about destruction - the destruction of one man’s dreams and illusions, the destruction of a family and the destruction of a way of life. By the time the story ends, nothing remains of the certainties the story starts with. It made the reading experience similar to watching a train-wreck; horrifying to watch yet impossible to look away from.


I think I would have liked the book more if the story had been just about Sebastian and Charles. I just couldn’t get interested in the second part of the story when it turns into a description of the ‘doomed to fail’ relationship between Julia and Charles. And I guess that’s the root of the problem; in my memory this was a story about those two men. I assume the rest of the story featured in the TV-series as well, but it had faded from my memory, and even now I’ve read the book, no images come to me.


I can’t honestly say whether the way this story was written disappointed me or whether I felt led down by the fact the book didn’t live up to my memories. Either way I have to conclude this fascinating story was not quite what I hoped it would be.

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review 2015-01-06 11:12
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

28/12 - I have heard that an artist is never completely happy with their work - a painter looks at his work and wishes he could go back and change a few irritating brush strokes, a musician hears his music/lyrics and thinks if only I could tweak that weird bit in the middle of the song, and an author contemplates his writing 14 years after he wrote it and thinks the world is a different place and today's readers won't understand it at all (or at least that's what Waugh thought) - despite that I was surprised by what Waugh said about his own book in the preface in this Penguin edition. He was quite dismissive of it, commenting that he would like to bring it up to date, but in order to do so he would have to change the story entirely (and then what's the point?). He said all this in 1959, I hate imagine what he would think of his work in relation to the world of today. He'd probably go about collecting all the editions of Brideshead Revisited and burning them. Although in saying that, the 'cult of the English country house' as he puts it, is in a huge revival thanks to shows like Downton Abbey and all those British 'renovate my crumbling mansion' shows that are so popular on tv right now (I'm a fan, they fan the flames of my dreams for my own country manor in the suburbs, one day). To be continued...


1/1 - I understand what's going on on the surface of this book, but I'm not sure I'm getting any of the deeper themes. I mean, at the beginning of page 72 there's a paragraph detailing some of the activities Charles (our narrator) and Sebastian were filling their time with. Charles likes to remember Sebastian in these moments (rather than so far unmentioned future moments, I guess). I know this because he told us so, at the beginning of the paragraph which I've copied down below.

'It is thus I like to remember Sebastian, as he was that summer, when we wandered alone together through that enchanted palace; Sebastian in his wheel-chair spinning down the box-edged walks of the kitchen gardens in search of alpine strawberries and warm figs, propelling himself through the succession of hot-houses, from scent to scent and climate to climate, to cut the muscat grapes and choose orchids for our button-holes; Sebastian hobbling with a pantomime of difficulty to the old nurseries, sitting beside me on the threadbare, flowered carpet with the toy-cupboard empty about us and Nanny Hawkins stitching complacently in the corner, saying, "You're one as bad as the other; a pair of children the two of you. Is that what they teach you at college?" Sebastian supine on the sunny seat in the colonnade, as he was now, and I in a hard chair beside him, trying to draw the fountain.'

I can't help but feel there are more, deeper meanings I'm supposed to be gleaning from paragraphs like that, but which are flying over my head. I think I'm enjoying the book as much as I would if the themes were as clear as water (rather than mud), but I guess I'll never know for sure (I've talked about themes before, and they're not getting easier to understand, or even spot, with every 'classic' I read as I'd hoped they might).

P.S. What's a camelopard? *googling* It's the Latin name for a giraffe!? When was a giraffe ever a Camelopard in every day speaking? It's not like this was written, or set, in the 1800s when half the world was unexplored and animals had particularly weird names because the general populace had no idea what they were. Is this another way to show Waugh's intelligence and possible snobbery (if you don't know what a Camelopard is without googling it, although he would have assumed the reader was encyclopaediaing it, you're not smart enough to fully understand my writing)? To be continued...


3/1 - What's with Aloysius the teddy bear? Why isn't Sebastian being mercilessly teased by his fellow classmates? I highly doubt that even the upper class students of universities like Oxford would be able to contain their derision for another student who keeps a teddy bear by his side, and talks to it and sets a place for it at the table as if it's actually alive and capable of eating the food placed before it. To be continued...


4/1 - Sebastian's desperation to get his hands on some alcohol, no matter what he has to do, or sell, reminds me of a family member's behaviour when he was an active addict. He took piles of DVDs, CDs, PC games down to cash converters just to get 20 bucks so that he could go back to his dealer for just a little more heroin. The Marchmain family's reaction to the news that Sebastian has agreed to go hunting reminds me of my family's behaviour whenever our relative made any mention of doing something other than scoring drugs, stuffing his face with lollies (supposedly, the drugs make them taste better so he'd go for days on end eating only pixie sticks and drinking Coke), or sleeping. We'd fall all over ourselves to accommodate him, anything to make him happy - cooking his favourite meals, inviting him watch movies with us - as if any of that would cure him of his addiction and remove the family from the hell life becomes when you're living with an addict. Our addict is now in recovery with 2.5 years of sobriety from all stimulants stronger than caffeine, but every time he calls there's the terror that he's fallen back down the hole of addiction.

I understand what Sebastian's family are going through, although they're going through it in a much more aloof and unconcerned way than my family did. I think the only way Sebastian's likely to stop drinking is through hospitalisation and a complete absence of alcohol anywhere in his vicinity. Allowing him one or two drinks at dinner, then expecting him to abstain all the rest of the day is never going to work. It needs to be stopped completely, even if that means that others in the house are cut off as well (a little inconvenience would surely be worth it?). I wonder how much, if anything, doctors of the twenties knew about alcoholism, or addiction in general. To be continued...


6/1 - Ahhh, finally finished! Another book that I'm glad I read, but only just managed to enjoy. It certainly hasn't encouraged me to attempt any further Evelyn Waugh books. So, my first book of the year wasn't a roaring success, and it took way longer than most other 326 page books would take, possibly twice as long. I'd hoped to be two, possibly three books in by this stage in January, now I only have two days to finish the next two library books in the due date sequence.

I kind of expected it, but was still a bit disappointed with the depressingness of the end. I was hoping that maybe Charles and Julia would get their happy ending, or at least that he would get to see her again while sussing out the house's usefulness as a place for the military to populate as a training area/accommodation. I also felt like Sebastian's character kind of got abandoned once Charles' attention was diverted by Julia. I was hoping he'd have some kind of epiphany and begin to recover, but he was just forgotten in some kind of monastery/commune with no real definitive ending, just a guessed at one from previous experience with similar cases.

PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge: A Book by an Author You've Never Read Before

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text 2014-09-24 11:48
September #bookadayuk - Day 24
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh



The Great Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited. Yes, I know they are blindingly obvious choices. But these are two brilliant novels which bring the 1920s to life. I couldn't contemplate choosing anything else. 

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