Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Brideshead Revisited

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I have made it my mission to expand my literary repertoire and read a lot of different books: fiction, non-fiction, and all forms of genre. And while I have my favourites (like everyone), I have to admit that I become fascinated by the books that I read out of curiosity, with no prior idea of their contents, that seem to be about nothing… these are the books that I find myself powering through the fastest, unable to put them down.
There have been a few, the newest addition being this week’s choice: Brideshead Revisited.

Critically acclaimed as Evelyn Waugh’s best novel, Brideshead Revisited begins during the second World War with Captain Charles Ryder’s company moving to a new base. The real story kicks in when Charles discovers that the base is the family mansion of one his greatest friends. From there Charles flashes back to the 1920s when he was a lonely lad in Oxford who meets the charismatic and charmingly eccentric Sebastian Flyte. Captivated by Sebastian’s aristocratic lifestyle, Charles soon becomes accepted as a member of the Flyte family and he becomes equally as infatuated with each of them. But as the years pass, Charles realises that there is a doom and despair to the Flyte family, as they live in a world where duty conflicts with desire and faith impedes happiness.

While there are many things that are different, I found myself (at the end of the book) being quite reminded of The Great Gatsby. While the events that take place in Brideshead are by no means as dramatic, the story depicts a sad and slightly morbid tale of lavishness and charisma hiding emptiness and unhappiness. It seems that all the characters (including the hero) are doomed from the start, but of course it’s not until the end that you really see how much.

Image credit: The Herald
Waugh writes with a wit and poeticism that is instantly engaging and cleverly gives the reader the same experiences that Charles has when he’s meeting these people for the first time. It’s wonderfully reflective writing and very clever. He also manages to create a world that is so tangible that you can almost smell and taste it. The lavishness of the beginning tarnishes as the characters begin to decay and that sweet taste of champagne soon turns to bile. It has been a while since I read a book that had that type of effect on me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact that the dramatic effects are chronicled so nonchalantly heightens this tangible effect and makes you eager to turn the page even though it seems like nothing is happening!

I found myself quite delighted with Brideshead Revisited and while I don’t think it’s a book that is everyone’s cup of tea, for those like me who wish to explore the classic literary canon, it’s utterly worth it.

Author: Evelyn Waugh, 1945

Published: Chapman & Hall (London), 1945

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