Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.
I'm happy to say I'm at the tail end of my Classics Club list: this will be my 146th title marked off, I've read 149 in total, and I'm half-way through the 150th. The best part of this is that this will be my last 'bad review'. I don't like writing them, but I have to be honest, and Vile Bodies was one of the worst reading experiences I have had.
This was the final nail in my Evelyn Waugh coffin. I really did love Brideshead Revisited (1945), and having read that for the first time I went on to read Scoop (1938), which was a great disappointment and The Loved One (1948) which was barely tolerable. Vile Bodies was an absolute nightmare to read.
It was first published in 1930 and was his second published novel after Decline and Fall (1928). It was going to be called Bright Young Things as it is a satire on the decadent socialites of the 1920s, rebelling, no doubt, against the miserable and austere war years. In Waugh's novel, which can be said to be an experimental modernist novel (I do wish, by the way, certain 'modernists' had left the style to Woolf and Joyce), focuses on a group of pretty vacant (in my mind) bright young things, specifically Adam Fenwick Symes who is in love with Nina Blount who refuses to marry him until he's made enough money for them to maintain their lavish lifestyle. And so Adam tries as a writer, but his manuscript is confiscated for being pornographic, then tries gambling, writing a column, etc. etc., all the while war, it seems (rightly so), is looming once again. As this plays out we learn a little about the lives and loves of the bright young things that surround them both.
A description of the plot makes me think I really ought to love this, but I found it desperately tedious. Waugh's use of aptronyms goes over-board, making it irritating, and to me Waugh didn't walk the tightrope between humorous and bitter very well, making the whole thing rather uncomfortable. It's so fast-paced I feel I'm in a car with an irresponsible 16 year old, but the characters are good insofar as they are supposed to be eccentric and self-indulgent and indeed they are, but they're generally unpleasant to read. Happily, though, there are plenty of people who love Vile Bodies so all is not lost for Waugh. For me, however, it is: I am done with Evelyn Waugh.