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.

Comments

  1. I'm so pleased to read this. I read Vile Bodies for a cc spin a couple of years ago ...and hated every single minute of it!
    I read The Loved Ones at school and learnt to enjoy it for what it was.
    Like you I loved BR (& BBC series), but this left me cold.

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    1. I started to watch the BBC series very recently but the stupid Sky Box didn't record them all so I missed all of the episodes after the first one. Must keep an eye out to see if it's on again.

      As for Vile Bodies - yup, horrendous. I gave it two stars on Goodreads - I seem to have been in a particularly generous mood that day!

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  2. i've read some of EW's other novels and quite liked them, although they did some what reek of colonialism (the ones taking place in other countries, i mean). But i've long suspected myself of liking poorly written books: often there's something pathetic and comforting about them... but i also wonder if i just don't have very good taste... i had to look up aptroponym: never heard that word before... it's nice when i learn something: reduces the impact of looming age... haha...

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    1. I often like trashy books too - yes, there is something comforting in them. But this was too far beyond for me! I own one other Waugh book I've not read - Black Mischief. At this moment I have no intention of reading it, but you never know.... :)

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  3. I'm another who hated this, so hooray! I was told it was funny....it was not funny. Blech. I've read Brideshead Revisited and that's enough Waugh for me.

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    1. Same here. I wish I'd stopped at Brideshead to be honest! :)

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