Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited
Title: Brideshead Revisited
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Publication Date: 1944
Pages: 351
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 4/8/16

Summary: Charles Ryder, who comes from a family of no particular significance, becomes entranced with the lifestyle of the Marchmain family. Their life of privilege and the way it has shaped them shape Charles himself as he forms an enduring relationship with the family.

What I Thought: I really enjoyed this one. A publisher's description calls it "the most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels." I think that sentiment captures the book quite well. It all felt very Downton Abbey-esqe to me, in the best way.

I found the interplay between the characters to be simultaneously charming and complex. I loved the dialogue. It really felt like Downton Abbey come to life. I cannot say that enough. It helped, of course, that Jeremy Irons narrated the audio book to which I listened. Friends...I just said 'narrated' in a British accent in my head as I typed it. Emphasis on the second syllable and all. It's contagious and I love it. Can I be British now, please? 

Interesting, some mark this book as a milestone in representation of LGBT populations. There are those who argue that Charles and Sebastian's relationship is more than friendship. My post-reading research shows that, while there are some passages which can be read in this way, there is no definitive proof. Personally, I never read the relationship in a sexual manner. While they are obviously close and do espouse love to one another, I myself have experienced love in close friendships and verbalized many of the same sentiments. To me, it was a portrayal of a deep, if flawed, friendship. Whether or not a romantic element is intended or interpreted, plenty can be gleaned from reading the relationship.

Another interesting point is the prominence of religion in the novel. Though many of the 100 Best Novels have included religious characters or, at the very least, cited the existence of faith, few have involved it to this extent. Waugh really dives into how religion and faith shapes the decisions of the Marchmain family members. They are Catholics of varying levels of devotion while Charles is an agnostic. Inevitably when faith plays such a role, it becomes a point of contention. Waugh may win the award for the first literary example of the "It's not you, it's God." breakup tactic. Upon reaching the end of the novel and of Charles' and Julia's relationship, I could not help but hearken back to my evangelical youth group days and the number of breakups I both witnessed and presided over which cited a spiritual guide as sole carrier of responsibility. 

Let's be real...I've been on both the receiving and giving end of this particularly Christian cliché and, while I do believe it can be true at times, I find it an easy out for most. Though painful, sometimes it's just best to blame compatibility or conflict or any number of reasons other than God. Does no one ever think about how citing God as a purpose to the end of a relationship may consequentially affect the other person's spiritual journey? Clearly my ex didn't or else I wouldn't be launching into this diatribe in the middle of a book review....

Ok, before I delve too deeply and unnecessarily into my own personal history, let's get back to the book. I liked this one. It had a nice balance of all the elements I find important: plot, character development, depth, etc. I can easily see myself returning to this one in the future. I have an inclination that it may even be a book I end up engaging over and over throughout the years, each time gleaning something new from its pages. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, definitely at some point
Other Books By Evelyn Waugh: A Handful of Dust

A Reduced Review: Romance and religion collide in this nostalgic, decadent period novel.

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