Monday, July 8, 2013

Hide the flags!! A review of Evelyn Waugh's 'Put Out More Flags'

In the midst of the second World War, Evelyn Waugh wrote a series of novels depicting the English involvement, whether through soldier's eyes or civilians who stayed at home. Put Out More Flags is one of these novels. first published in 1942 the novel follows several characters through the first year of the war and how their lives are altered because of it. read on for a short summary and a review.
The novel starts and ends with Basil Seal, a character who has appeared in previous works of Waugh. Seal is the proverbial bad egg and at first he wants nothing to do with the war, though he quickly finds ways to which he can use the war to his advantage. Other characters, who in one way or another are connected to Basil are presented throughout the novel. Several chapters follow Basil's Sister, Barbara who is a billeting officer for evacuees of the bigger cities. Another prominent character is Ambrose Silk, a writer who reluctantly finds himself employed by the Ministry of information. Basil's mistress Angela Lyne, sturggling throughout the novel with an alcohol problem also makes several appearances Minor characters like Alistair Trumpington and Peter Pastmaster, both of whom give insight into the goings on of the British Army and the many things that go wrong.

I'm a big Evelyn Waugh fan, though this book was very difficult to get into. Basil is the most interesting character, and the parts of the novel that feature him are by far the best. His opportunistic style and the schemes he comes up with are perhaps the novel's comic relief. However, the army maneuvers Alistair mainly encounters are all pretty much a clusterfuck with no one knowing what to do, making the regiments seem incompetent. The novel, though by all accounts still a war story, falls in a sort of limbo, dangling between wonderful satire, which Waugh is famous for, and serious accounts of the war. Because of this the novel is difficult to discern. Even Basil , who in the first half of the novel is still unwilling to join the army and join the war effort, does a complete 180 and becomes part of the war office, though he's still up to his ways, he eventually comes to see that he can't keep on scheming once the war continues. I think the novel would have done better if it featured more Basil and less of the other characters, though it may not be an account of the war if that were the case. If you're a fan of Waugh you might want to stick with it because it does come together somewhat in the end. If you're a first time reader of Waugh, I wouldn't recommend this book as your first foray into his works.
You can buy Put Out More Flags here:

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