"I'm not going to have you get mixed up with my family. They're so madly charming. All my life they've been taking things away from me. If they once get hold of you with their charm they'd make you their friend, not mine and I won't let them."So Sebastian Flyte tells the protagonist Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Of course it's Sebastian who's the charming one. Looking and sounding as though he's drifted in from an E.M Forster novel Sebastian is a bloody delight to read and he dominates the landscape of the book in its first half, seducing Charles (though probably not like that) and the reader with charm and booze and food and more booze.
In the preface for a reprinting of the novel Waugh said"
"It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the
period of soya beans and basic English - and in consequence the book
is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the
recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full
stomach, I find distasteful."
He has a point - it is a little bit like the literary equivalent of a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a lobster. In this I thought it was a big departure from the clipped efficiency of the wonderful A Handful of Dust or the comic stylings of Scoop but Waugh's style is so good and his ability to switch between spot-on humour and pathos that I found it completely charming and engaging.
And then we reach the second half.
Well. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it because, despite my mixed feelings, I think it is incredibly well written and very much worth reading, but the book does change - a lot - in its second half as Waugh slowly takes Sebastian apart and refocuses the novel on Charles and a new (female) love interest. I think perhaps it would have worked better if Waugh was as good at writing sympathetic women as he is men but I do not think he is. However good he is at writing bitches I've never warmed to a female character in a Waugh novel and Brideshead wasn't the one to make me start.
All that said the book is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly beautifully written and quite fascinating in its way.
Next on the list: Decline and Fall, which should round out my Waugh education fairly decently for now.