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08 August 2008 @ 12:05 am
can has pimms?  

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

The Oxford novel, eh? That made me think of all the other Oxford-featuring books I've read: His Dark Materials, Oscar and Lucinda (ugh; that doesn't deserve to be The anything, unless it's The Shittiest Excuse for a Romance Ever Penned), To Say Nothing of the Dog. Then I compared them to the Oxford I remember from two flying visits. I'm sure most Oxfordians would consider their city to be pomp and circumstance, grandeur personified, but I thought it was damn cute. You don't get cute cities very often - towns, yes; villages, certainly; but not cities.

I devoured this book. It's longer than the last two I've read, but I tore through it in three days. I'd given up forever the idea that a book should grip me, should make me want to read further. Brideshead did, at least, restore my faith in that. It also made me laugh. Not just smile, or smirk, but actual, snorting, where's-the-donkey laughter. Mainly after the fact, because I'd squint at a line and think, 'Huh,' then, 'Hee' and then the laughter would burst out against the dam of my pursed lips. The two best examples - which I can remember off the top of my head, without even flicking through - are Anthony Blanche's 'I may be inverted but I'm not insatiable,' which I've been using in imaginary conversations ever since and am also determined to slot into a real one as soon as may be; and Brideshead knowing his wife because her late husband collected matchboxes. That one sent me off in fits, I swear. I went to the kitchen to get water at the paragraph break - I'm addicted to drinking water, so it's probably a good thing it's not wine; I'd be permanently squiffy. As I filled the empty bottle and got a cold one from the fridge and looked out at the fields, I kept mumbling, "Collected matchboxes" and loosing that sawtooth giggle. It was so, so - fitting, or contrasting, or I don't know what. MATCHBOXLOL FTW.

That being said, I was left very puzzled. I'm not sure I quite understand this book at all. I also felt a little taken in. It read rather as if it were tragedy for the sake of tragedy - like, Sebastian suddenly becoming an alcoholic (seriously! It came out of nowhere), the family rift - which I felt to be very poorly explained - and Julia breaking off the engagement. Anthony's little speech early on was clearly a prophesy of doom, but I can't for the life of me understand why he got the powers of divination (I smell a plot device) or why Charles should take it so much to heart. Also, he kept describing things as 'horrific' that weren't really, like old Brideshead telling Father Mackay that he wasn't interested in final rites, kthanx. He didn't rant and rave or throw a teapot, but was simply very polite and clear. Or the time Sebastian came down drunk and apologised to Charles but not to his mother - OH NOES! CALL THE GUARDS! He was a wee bit rude!

Charles himself was a total cad, and I mean total. I was not impressed with the 'forerunner' comment. Nor did I like the fact that he begot two children with Celia and didn't even bother to find out Caroline's name for a year -! As for the way he callously dumped Sebastian when he became too much to handle, well. Of course, I am biased. For me, the Charles/Sebastian was what this story was about. I was surprised halfway through, and I'm still surprised, that Waugh went to all the trouble in 1945 to write an obvious male romantic pairing and then just bailed on it. Did he think all would be forgiven because what Charles really wanted was a girl who looked exactly like his male lover? (Also: WHAT?) I don't think the disgusted conservatives would have bothered to even read that far.

Charles seemed to have no opinion on anything, but I personally put that down to the dreaded first-person POV. I'm becoming more and more disinclined towards it as times goes on. When Boy and Sebastian decide to go to the Old Hundredth and end up arrested, Charles doesn't think ANYTHING. Not 'maybe we oughtn't to bail out on this ball' - which I thought someone should have said - or 'oops, bad idea, chaps'. Julia tells him that he loved Sebastian; he never puts forward that idea himself.

This book has been sitting around for quite a while. I leave bookmarks in books, and the one I was using for this was a bus ticket dated October 2004. That was quite a big year for me - finishing school, taking a year out to do art, having fullblown access to books and music and the run of the city for the first time in my life. That was the year I bought a Terry Pratchett book every week, until I'd read them all. That was the year I found Green Day and Weezer and Blink 182. That was the year I discovered fandom. That was the year I discovered slash.

I remember reading the beginning of this, standing on a windy edge of pavement that constituted my bus stop while the terminal was being redecorated (read: torn to pieces). I also remember being disappointed that there was no overt boylove action. That was the main reason why I abandoned it, and the main reason I didn't pick it up again till now, because the impression stuck. I'm not sure now why I thought that, because it seemed bloody overt this time around. Maybe my skills at penetrating subtext have become that much more honed; who knows? I mean: they sunbathed naked? 'We thought you were fairies'? A whole year where they spent every evening together, alone? The endless references to gardens of love? They weren't exactly rocking out with their cocks out, but jesus. The coughs of amazement and 'did I really just read that?' were good enough.

The Catholic-bashing - what now? Catholics seem to come in for a lot of stick over the oil and the genuflection and the incense, but it's just as daft as any other religion, not moreso. Is that what drove Lord and Lady Brideshead apart? I could buy that explanation better than the dippy one Cara proffered. Is that what drove Charles and Julia apart? It seemed so, but the overarching pressure of the tragic imperative definitely had the upper hand. Plus, what had Julia to recommend her? She was beautiful - but so was Celia, and Charles ended up hating her. At least Sebastian was whimsical, although for some reason the whimsy had to be butchered. Tragic imperative, blame the Catholics - one or the other. I've seen the things Catholicism can do to families. This high-flown debate about the state of your eternal soul doesn't really come into it; it's more about looking holier-than-thou and trimming off what doesn't fit - divorce, adultery, illegimate children, homosexuality, promiscuity, short skirts, not going to Mass every week. The shit the Bridesheads (or is it the Marchmains?) threw down just wouldn't fly, not in Holy Catholic Ireland, probably not in Holy Catholic Italy or Poland or anywhere it's prevalent. Marrying a divorced man was enough to damn Julia forever, yet she was ready to do it all again. Except. She randomly got holy? No, what the fuck, I still don't get it.

I sort of felt the dialogue was out of keeping, sometimes, with the overall tone of the book - it was like reading Nancy Mitford. Of course, I have to admit that Mitford's themes aren't all that different, but here there was a lugubrious determination to keep smashing in the fact that all the loves were doomed to fail. And how. I certainly liked Julia better when she was scathingly dismissive of her fey brother and his pretty little friend. If Charles was that in love with the family, why didn't he have an interlude with Brideshead and marry Cordelia?

In conclusion, I suppose I just don't see why it had to end the way it did. The impression you get from the beginning is that Charles left Brideshead many a moon ago, when in fact it was just before the war - late thirties sometime, I imagine. Four or five years isn't quite the tragic distance I imagined. I felt more moved about the manor house getting trashed than about any of the people who used to live in it. Anytime I hear about - idek, antique gates being appropriated for bullets, it makes my blood boil. I hate war; I think antique gates have more right to exist than bullets. To me the twenties and thirties are a sad time, because they were about to lose everything, and none of beauty and grace survived. Instead they got fucking Le Corbusier.

Lalala. So I enjoyed it, but I don't think I loved it. Nor do I think I'd read it again, because it didn't spark in me the same warm thrills that Love in a Cold Climate did. I'm sorry to harp on, but it does seem that Waugh and Mitford are essentially interchangeable. But I certainly appreciated it more than I did before I had to suffer Eliot and Hardy and Woolf - and I did suffer Woolf, no matter how much I sort-of-nearly dug her. (No seriously, Kerouac, get outta my brain.)

Previously, on Book Glomp 2008:
Invisible Monsters (this I did not hate!)
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Love in the Time of Cholera
Oscar and Lucinda
Breakfast at Tiffany's (this I even mildly liked!)
To the Lighthouse (this I 28% appreciated!)
On the Road
Current Music: anthem (phantom planet)
pale pubescent beast: brendon urie belly all/0ne_trashylifewildestranger on August 7th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
I've not read this book but your commentary makes me tempted to do so.

Incidentally, did you see harelquin_bands? *nudges you thataway*
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: For the Roadscoradh on August 7th, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's a good read. Don't get me wrong. And if you can actually like Middlemarch you'll stomach this no problem.

I did see mutterings while I backread the flist! (Skip 320 omg. And that's only August 3rd.) I will peruse presently.
pale pubescent beastwildestranger on August 8th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
Dude, I liked Clarissa. There's no book I can't read *g* (except Finnegans Wake cause it just doesn't make sense! I have Views on this). But yes, we can have a bookgroupy meeting in October. :)

And come along to harlequin_bands! We have Spencer Smith as a sophisticated lady and Jon Walker as a rugged cowboy. And Brendon as a virginal governess (although that's mostly just me).
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Dinosaur: attracted to musicscoradh on August 8th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
Oh man, I forgot about Joyce. I'm going to have to tackle him again at some point. I can't die without finishing Ulysses (though it may very well kill me). Hopefully by FOB I'll have read another 10 or so - this Vow is neverending.


I'm totally digging Brendon as governess. Can teach the harp and the pianoforte! Disturbingly, I can even see him in sprigged muslin.
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: socksscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
She also liked Middlemarch! But shh, don't tease her. :D
jehnt: wordy - oscar wildejehnt on August 7th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
I think antique gates have more right to exist than bullets.


Hmm. I didn't used to want to read this book... but now I sort of do. I want to see the movie though -- it looks pretty, even if all the previews made it seem totally devoid of plot. But whatever! I'll totally pay ten dollars to see pretty people walking around pretty sets!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: frangipaniscoradh on August 8th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
You'll totally pay ten dollars to watch people getting blown up for no good reason. ;D YOU.

To be fair, I've heard uniformly bad things about this film version. They cut Aloysius! You might be better off to watch the ancient TV series version; it has a cult status.

(I hope you noticed where I stole your phrase 'rock out with your cock out.' I bet NO ONE'S ever used that in relation to Brideshead Revisited before EVER.)
jehnt: fashion - menswearjehnt on August 8th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC)

I did hear that the tv one of it was good. I should probably rent it.

(And yes, I did see that. If more people used inappropriately modern phrases while discussing literary classics, I might actually be tempted to read more of them!)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Bollywoodscoradh on August 8th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)
OKAY THEN, BUT HAVE YOU SEEN STARTER FOR TEN? James McAvoy for you (and me), protests for you, romcom for me!

Bringing ranting into the twenty-first century - never say I don't do my bit for literature!
jehnt: penelope - happily ever afterjehnt on August 8th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Oh I did see Starter for Ten. I'm not sure what I thought of it. On the one hand, it was fun, but on the other hand, there were so many cringe-inducingly embarrassing moments for the character that I was, well, cringing a lot. I thought the naked parents of that blonde girl were HILARIOUS though, omg.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: sunflowerscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:16 pm (UTC)
They also completely stole a scene from 4 Weddings and didn't bother to make it any good. I wasn't sold on the romances, either. But - James McAvoy!
trichinopoly ash: confession: intellectaldehyde on August 8th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
i love it that you read a lot and then write long reviews. it's hot.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Disney: Little Mermaid bathscoradh on August 8th, 2008 12:36 am (UTC)
They don't seem that long until I post them - not to mention they're fairly incoherent. Treating classic books like fanfic, that's me.
trichinopoly ash: edward: maybellinealdehyde on August 8th, 2008 01:02 am (UTC)
it's a good technique, keep doing it :D

awh a little mermaid icon! d'you know how much i would always BAWL while watching that cartoon? i'm such a sap.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Disney: Little Mermaid pink dress of winscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
It's the only thing I have to look forward to, yo. ;D

It makes me want to brush my hair with a fork, but okay, yours is also a reasonable reaction. Here, have another.
a_clear_day on August 8th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)
For me, the Charles/Sebastian was what this story was about. I was surprised halfway through, and I'm still surprised, that Waugh went to all the trouble in 1945 to write an obvious male romantic pairing and then just bailed on it. Did he think all would be forgiven because what Charles really wanted was a girl who looked exactly like his male lover? (Also: WHAT?)

I agree with your review wholeheartedly! I just finished the book myself a few weeks ago. The ending totally threw me.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Twins playing keyboardscoradh on August 8th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)
It's a pity, because the writing is so GOOD and FUN, but the story is a bit random.
Shezanshezan on August 8th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
... hahahaha! You had read To Say Nothing Of The Dog! I should read my flist in reverse order...
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Beautiful human being/potatoscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
Totally have! And how do you manage not to?
Shezanshezan on August 8th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
... I meant reverse of the reverse order...

Shezanshezan on August 8th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)
... no, no, no, it's not Catholic-bashing. It's an enthusiastic convert's way of justifying Catholic suffering. Waugh himself - who'd converted in 1930 after his first wife left him - wrote about Brideshead that it was about "the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters." Also, he himself had some homosexual experiments at Oxford, so Charles has more of him than one would think at first; and in the last chapter he doubts his own agnosticism.

One piece of advice, give the recent movie a miss, rent the 1981 television series!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: black catscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC)
... NO I STILL DON'T GET IT! I'm a Catholic, but I don't suffer. I don't think I ever did. I really couldn't figure out his attitude - did he hate them? Was he one? It was impossible to tell. Even with this new info, I don't feel greatly edified. My brain on stupid, let me show you it. >.>

I've seen that around! I don't actually watch much TV, but I may give it a go.
Shezan: Ninashezan on August 8th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
Let me provide a little extra incentive...

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: fangirl Petescoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)
LOOKIT WHERE HIS HAND IS! It totally reminded me of the Spencer sleeping in Ryan's crotch thing. Now I want a bandom pastiche ... OM NOM NOM.
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: fishscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
TEEHEE, I'm so glad I never did that English degree I was planning on ... I might have to justify myself in that case. ;D
moocowmisconstrue on August 8th, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
Hm, this seems interesting. I skimmed this review because I have yet to read the book but you compared it to Woolf and it gripped you (even if it didn't make you fall madly in love with it) so it sounds like it'll be interesting. I mean, I'm slogging my way through Vanity Fair and enjoy 18th century bullcrap so really, this should be all right!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: group heescoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, it definitely is worth reading - not something I can say about most of the other books on that list.

Vanity Fair is in my Vow! I've started it at least twice before, but the whole 'book without a hero' concept bothered me lots. I'll just have to put up and shut up this time around.
moocowmisconstrue on August 8th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
Vanity Fair
I'm listening to it for free from LibriVox. Even the doodles in my cheapo edition weren't enough to keep me interested (I read footnotes compulsively which is both good and bad, in this case bad b/c I don't need most of them and it slows me down) but having someone else read it to me helps with that problem. :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: monkeyscoradh on August 8th, 2008 11:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Vanity Fair
The only time I've listened to audiobooks is when I had laser surgery and couldn't open my eyes. :D They are a bit too slow for me. Also, the way the words are on the page is important to me. I want to see what people do with their commas!
moocowmisconstrue on August 9th, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Vanity Fair
That is true. it's a completely different experience when you don't see any of the formatting! some of my audiobooks I might go back and read textually, we'll see. :B
Snakelingsnakeling on August 8th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
I've just skimmed the beginning of your review, because I've been toying with the idea of picking this book and I don't want to be spoiled. Given the tone of your first paragraph, it's just been updated to the top of the to-read pile :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Austen with a bookscoradh on August 8th, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)
Do, do! I had my reservations about it in the end, but it was such a fun ride.
vickyduckyvickyducky on August 9th, 2008 06:52 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed this. You seem like you're due for something less hateful and I love this book. I first read it when the tv series was shown in 1981 (I was 15) and even though I had no idea slash existed back then it was the Sebastian/Charles relationship that drew me in. I've read this loads of times and sometimes I just read the first half and then the bits about Sebastian in Algiers and leave out the Charles/Julia altogether. I will go and see the new film but I saw the trailer and it looks very much as though they have introduced a Charles/Julia relationship whilst Charles is at Oxford still. There is definitely a line were drunk!Sebastian shouts at Charles (apparently at Brideshead, around the time of "Charles is my guest and I was bloody to him" I think) "you don't want me you're only interested in my sister!". I can't tell you how much this will piss me off if this is what they have done.

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: scarfscoradh on August 9th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
where drunk!Sebastian shouts at Charles (apparently at Brideshead, around the time of "Charles is my guest and I was bloody to him" I think) "you don't want me you're only interested in my sister!". I can't tell you how much this will piss me off if this is what they have done.

Oh no! Isn't that around the time Charles basically watches Sebastian take a bath? I mean seriously. It's 2008, people. Nearly everyone who likes this book now likes it because of C/S, not C/J, so why not push the boat out and bring some of the boylove into it?