Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Charles Ryder, as an army captain in WW2, is posted to a requisitioned country house. This turns out to be the family home of the aristocratic Flytes, one of whom, Sebastian, had been a close friend of Charles at Oxford. Charles remembers his relationship first with Sebastian, and then the rest of the family.

I found it quite an effort to get through this book. In large part I think this was because the reader (Jeremy Irons) read with a langorous, listless tone. And very quietly, so that I quite often missed chunks or had to rewind to hear them properly. For most of the book I simply found this style irritating.

The book paints a fairly vivid (and presumably accurate) picture of the aristocratic classes of the time ('20s and '30s) and I think is praised for this, but I found it hard to feel any attachment to the characters. None of them seems to get excited about anything - the dialogue made me think of a Noel Coward play, or Brief Encounter (and I don't think this is just Irons); a bit brittle and distant, as if their attention is held elsewhere. I couldn't really understand what they saw in each other.

The ending though, was quite a turning point for me: it made sense of Irons' reading and Ryder's tone throughout the book. Up until the last chapter or so I would have said that the book wasn't worth re-reading. But now I feel that the rest of the book is given a different perspective, making me want to re-read it in that light (a bit like seeing "The Sixth Sense" and wanting to watch it all again when you know the ending).

So maybe I'll read it again one day, but I think I'll try it as a book rather than audio next time.

The Guardian published some memoranda by Waugh from the time when a film production of this book was being negotiated. Interesting stuff here suggesting I totally missed the point of the book!

Completed : 16-Aug-2003 (audiobook)

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