Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Review: 5 out of 5 stars
This book is real British jewel. Treasure it’s foreignness. Admire all that sparkles within.
As an American, I seriously felt like I needed a translation. For example, what American would know that a “scout” is a domestic worker at Oxford University? Plus the lives of the rich, landed aristocracy of the 1920s and 30s feels so otherworldly to me—the servants, the brutal and constant sarcasm, the expectations of conduct. However, once I accepted that this book is truly a book of an exotic land in a foreign language, I settled down in it and found it a delightfully good read.
In this novel, Charles Ryder finds himself mixed up in the Flyte family for two decades, from his college years into middle life. The family has so many destructive issues of which the narrator continues to be drawn into.
This isn’t the kind of book that I ever wanted to pick up and dive into; but once I was reading it, I found the pages would fly by. I had to get used to stumbling over the Britishisms. At some point, I figured out that it was useless looking them all up, so I would skip over them and wait to catch up a paragraph later.
For most of the book, I found the text alternatives between lengthy conversations and poetical descriptions, neither of which were overly floral or difficult to get through. In fact, I would say the language is possibly the best part of this book. The conversations aren’t realistic, but they do convey a great deal about the characters and viewpoints. Descriptions are absolutely beautiful and do the heavy lifting in this story. The plot is mediocre and seems beside the point.
The point of this book, in fact, seems to be the re-creation of the world these people live in. The reader is drawn into it, the sarcasm, the loneliness, the family responsibilities. It’s quite fascinating. Brideshead is the grounds that the book mostly takes place on, and Waugh has such an evocative way of bringing the place to life.
The characters are hideous in a way only a great author can make them. If you want to love the characters in a book, you might struggle with this one. All the characters will have parts of them you will like or find amusing at least, but they all have terribly flawed issues as well. However, their tragedy and complexity make for a good read.
One of my favorite quotes from the book: “Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has killed you.” (pg. 313)
I recommend this easily to any book group or any individual interested in classics. If you happen to be an Anglophile, this is a must-read for you.