Vile Bodies Hardcover – December 11, 2012
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"Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing" by Allison Winn Scotch
Politics is a test of wills in a sharp, funny, and emotional novel about truth and consequences. | Learn more
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 031621633X
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.25 x 9.75 inches
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316216333
- Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; Reissue edition (December 11, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #924,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This is not one of my favorite Waugh novels. There is no plot to speak of. This book is really just a sequence of scenes that are meant to poke fun at the rich & foolish of post-WWI England; mainly, the "Bright Young Things". Though I'm sure this book was quite a riot in its day, I feel that it has aged less well than much of Waugh's work. This is also reflected in the use of what would be considered very un-PC language today. (Though, admittedly, the use of un-PC language doesn't really bother me personally.)
That being said, there's no denying that Waugh is a very funny writer and that there are plenty of laughs still to be had here. Waugh's dialogue in this novel really pops with energy. There are set pieces that can still speak to us--the couple whose state of engagement changes on an hourly basis, the writer who makes up his articles wholesale, the religious proselytizers who don't practice what they preach. In fact, there are a whole slew of ridiculous characters here which each have a moment or two in the sun.
Whatever its deficiencies, there's a reason some writers have their books still read over 80 years after they are first published: the worst book of a great author is better than most of the books out there. And I wouldn't say this is Waugh's worst. It's definitely worth a read.
On the other hand, well, let's just say this is one time Waugh doesn't employ his usual gimlet-eyed focus.
Adam and Nina prepare to tie the knot, only he keeps falling out financially while she is distracted by a suitor who she used to play with when she was a girl and "his hair was a very pretty colour then." Their friend Agatha hasn't enough sense not to smoke in a race-car pit, but her being strip-searched at customs becomes national news. Evangelist Mrs. Ape and her all-girl wing-wearing retinue plies their trade to the aristocratic circle, while prime ministers rise and fall and the jeunesse dorée Waugh dubs the Bright Young Things seek ever-more exotic locales for their parties and shallow, self-serving games.
Shallow selfishness is the theme of this, Waugh's satire of the class and culture he inhabited. Perhaps as an extension of this satire, Waugh is even more disengaged than usual in his characters and their goings-on, and as he jumps from one frothy distraction to another, it makes for a tough read. As Adam says at one point near the final stretch: "I've rather lost interest in this race."
Adam is a particular difficult character in the novel, being the protagonist, so feckless he's hard to root for, whether he's giving a thousand pounds to a stranger to make a bet for him or selling his fiancée off to his rival to square a hotel bill.
He does get one brief burst of energy when Waugh thrusts upon him the job of a gossip columnist, which Adam fills with unexpected verve and imagination, peopling his column with imaginary characters like a rare beauty, "very dark and slim, with large Laurencin eyes and the negligent grace of the trained athlete" of whom another celebrity of Adam's invention describes as "justifying the century."
For a time, Adam's column sends London aflutter, and Waugh's satire soars, but then Waugh quickly switches gears and moves on to the next thing. He does this in all his novels, but he's normally such an inventive scenarist you don't mind. Here, so much of the divertissement is paper-thin, it really disappoints someone weaned on far better Waugh books set in the same place, like "Brideshead Revisited" (as deep and real a vision of London in the 1920s and 1930s as this is not) and "A Handful Of Dust" (where protagonist Tony Last merits a rooting interest.) Here you have what amounts to a clever Waugh short story that just goes on a bit too long.
Even the humor feels forced at times. When Agatha finds herself in a strange house still dressed for a party from the night before, Waugh is compelled in parenthesis to tell us she's in a grass skirt, as if not trusting us to cotton onto the joke otherwise.
Most people seem to regard this novel as one of Waugh's better ones, capturing the spirit of the time and its frivolity. It's frivolous, I grant you that, and you may find it more engaging. Certainly it is a Rosetta stone for understanding Waugh's complicated relationship with his surroundings, and his embrace of Catholicism as apparent satiety for the "almost fatal hunger for permanence" articulated in this novel by a wandering Jesuit.
I just wish, for all the occasional moments of humor and Waugh's characteristically sharp pen, there was something of his more transcendent quality to be found here as well.
Top reviews from other countries
Published in 1930, this is Evelyn Waugh’s second novel, following the comic, “Decline and Fall.” Although this has some of the same humour, it becomes considerably darker in parts, which possibly mirrors the fact that Waugh’s first marriage (‘He-Evelyn’ and ‘She-Evelyn’) was falling apart during the writing of this.
The main character is Adam Fenwick-Symes, who returns to England on a ship, aboard many of the other characters who feature in the novel. For this is about the ‘Bright Young Things,’ a small, select group of people who party constantly and are always running into each other. Their desire for constant amusement leads them into all sorts of scrapes, as does Adam’s attempts to earn enough money to marry Nina Blount. For this is a love story which seems destined to fail, as Adam no sooner arrives on dry land to find that luck, and money, are extremely elusive.
As with so many of Waugh’s novels, the humour is satirical, sly and sharp. Much of the humour comes from Nina’s wonderfully batty father – whose ancestral home is full of movie magazines – and the drunken major who Adam, equally drunkenly, trusts with all his money. Nobody is really who they seem, but Waugh has great fun with gossip columnists, the endless parties, which seem slightly seedy in daylight, and with the woes of romance. Having finally spent the night with Adam, Nina declares that, “for physical pleasure she would rather go to her dentist any day,” while Adam (or Waugh himself) plaintively pleads that, “marriage ought to go on for quite a long time I mean, do you feel that too, at all?”
I found this took a little while to get going, but, eventually, I was unable to put it down. It was also very modern for the time, which much of the dialogue taking place over the telephone. Waugh never disappoints and remains one of my very favourite authors.
An amusing and enjoyable read, spoiled only by the longwinded introduction in the edition I downloaded. I never want to read a load of guff about a story before I've read the actual story. The guff would have been more relevant at the end.
One happy customer.