Monday, 20 February 2017

Book Review - Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Published in 1930 this novel satirises the world of the Bright Young Things, a group of 1920s socialites known for their outrageous parties and behaviour. They epitomised the Jazz Age in London and the Roaring Twenties vibe that followed World War 1.

This is the first novel by Evelyn Waugh I have read. I enjoyed watching Brideshead Revisited but to my shame I never got round to reading the book. So I wasn't sure what to expect from Vile Bodies. It was like a waspish Jeeves and Wooster at times and I loved it.

This is the story of Adam Fenwick-Symes love of and pursuit of Nina Blount. They are part of the bohemian set that parties around London, lurching from one financial crisis to another. They seem resigned to the fact that they will marry but lack of funds always stops them. There is a sometimes bewildering cast of characters. The older generation are Edwardians who lived through World War 1 and adhere to the old standards. They watch with despair the younger generation who live for parties and pleasure, rushing around the country, living beyond their means and filling the gossip columns.

There were echoes of recent times in Vile Bodies. At one point Adam becomes a gossip columnist and to pep things up when he runs out of things to write he invents people and events to fill his column. Readers believe in these people and they take on lives of their own so he has to send his creations abroad. This reminded me of the fake news/alternative facts that have been swilling around the media recently. An opportune time to read this novel I think.

 Not all the characters are sympathetic and some of them seem to flit in and out and leave little impression. I enjoyed reading about the exploits of Agatha Runcible who is struggling with her sexuality and who embraces the lifestyle of the bohemian set to its ultimate and tragic end. Lottie Crump is divine, running a hotel for misfits who have nowhere else to go. She is both clueless and savvy at the same time - she understands her clientele and allows them to be who they are, no questions asked.

The novel turns from a romantic romp through fashionable society into a bleak view of the future. Waugh predicts that there will be another war and this will bring about the end of the Bright Young Things and their like. The novel ends with Adam, the Major and a prostitute sitting in a car in the heart of a battle - two worlds colliding in the most brutal way imaginable. I enjoyed this first encounter with Evelyn Waugh very much and will certainly read some more in the future.

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