Monday, November 17, 2014

Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh

Vile BodiesVile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set at the crossroads of the last gasps of Edwardian propriety and the close of the Jazz Age, Vile Bodies skewers the Bright Young Things of 1920s England. These are the young survivors of the first World War who mean to have fun, because who knows what could happen next?

Waugh himself was a few years older than the very real BYTs from which he draws his characters, and in real life, had a mixture of admiration and revulsion as he observed them at near distance. These 18-to-25-year-olds leveraged their families' excellent social standing and wealth to live lives of great excess and ultimately emptiness. Some escaped through respectable marriage and settled down into upperclass convention after a few years of wild living, and others were forever broken.

One might want to consult a few notes about 1920s England before embarking on this short novel; it's helpful to know what the political, social, religious, and economic milieus were in terms of understanding some of the sidebar action, such as the Angels, which would fall flat without a point of reference.

As with so much of Waugh's work, he manages to capture adroitly a fleeting moment in history via his fiction: here, it's the very last of carefree 1920s society before the realities of the Great Depression and World War II change everything. His dry sense of humor and way of setting up a scene to deliver a fantastic punchline are simply delicious. Well worth reading if this era fascinates you as it does me.

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