Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book #23: Brideshead Revisited

My friend who now has super powers recently received a copy of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. After getting over the slightly squidgey circumstances under which he was gifted the book, I suggested that we use the book as an opportunity for an informal book club. And thus Bookclub Revisited was born.

It would turn out that applying for jobs takes up more time that one initially imagines, and as a result, I was the only one of the three book club members reading the book for the first time to actually finish it. One made it almost all the way through Book 1; the other just a few pages in. So we talked primarily about the prologue and the initial confusion that results from the framing of the narrative. Lots of interesting discussion can result from such a small premise.

I also talked about some of the characters as they appear in Book 1 with said super-powered friend. Primarily, we chatted about who we liked, who we didn't, and why. I have an incredibly well-read friend who, upon reading Brideshead Revisited back in her school years, hated everyone but the character Sebastian. I find that really interesting because, while I find Sebastian amusing in an outside observer sort of way, I don't really like him as a human being. I always find it intriguing to read books that involve characters that different people relate to so differently.

I don't want to go too much into details of the book since Bookclub Revisited hasn't had our complete discussion yet, but I'll give you a few snippets. The book is narrated by Captain Charles Ryder during the year 1944; while an officer in the British Army, Charles finds himself and his men temporarily housed on the grounds of the Brideshead estate, a place he knew well at two times in his life. That's the basis for the prologue and epilogue--the two books, the meat of the novel, contain Charles's remembrances of Brideshead from when he first went there in the 1920s and then when he was involved with it for different reasons ten years later. The framing is definitely confusing, but it works well. I was so intrigued by the characters--and their remarkable capacity to say absolutely nothing while talking without break for pages and pages and pages. On more than a few occasions, Book 1 in particular really put me in mind of the movie Metropolitan, wherein people talk about themselves only under the guise of discussing the human condition. Such interesting characters!

Also making appearances are an age-innapropriate teddy bear and a bedazzled tortoise. To see how they figure into the story is good enough reason to pick up Brideshead Revisited. I'd suggest this book to anyone who enjoys delving into that quintessentially odd between-the-wars period in England, Waugh's own brand of off-kilter characters, and general indulgence in literary characters.

Note: This was the first book I read entirely on my new Kindle. I approve! Also, if you want to read and/or discuss Brideshead Revisited with me, feel free to e-mail or tweet (@amyeileenk)! Use the hashtag #bookclubrevisited on Twitter.

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