Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Vile Bodies- reviewed

This one’s been on my shelves for a while now. I promised myself, After reading Evelyn Waugh’s Put out more flags, and A Handful of Dust (review of the former here)- and enjoying them, I thought that I would jump on to this one, but it’s only now that I actually took the time to read it. While it took me a while to get into it I eventually finished it, so here’s a synopsis and my review.

 The Bright Young Things of 1920s Mayfair, with their paradoxical mix of innocence and sophistication, exercise their inventive minds and vile bodies in every kind of capricious escapade, whether it is promiscuity, dancing, cocktail parties or sports cars. A vivid assortment of characters, among them the struggling writer Adam Fenwick-Symes and the glamorous, aristocratic Nina Blount, hunt fast and furiously for ever greater sensations and the hedonistic fulfilment of their desires. Evelyn Waugh’s acidly funny and experimental satire shows a new generation emerging in the years after the First World War, revealing the darkness and vulnerability beneath the glittering surface of the high life.

So what happens if you multiply the characters in the great Gatsby and let them loose in London and surroundings with no morals (even less than the very few they posessed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel) and plenty of cheap and legal alcohol; You pretty much get this novel and these characters. The Bright young things, or Vile Bodies as Waugh refers to them- I, like Waugh, prefer the latter term- have no regard for the wellbeing of others, or even themselves. Excessive drinking and racking debt are daily activities in their lives. The closest the novel comes to having main characters are Adam Fenwick and Nina who want to get married but never have the money for it- though they do have the ability to drink and party profusely .

The novel features occasions, many of them parties, featuring Adam, Nina and/or a number of their acquaintances, which mainly start out funny but often end in some sort of tragedy. Yet, the vile bodies continue to go on despite being subjected to their declining wealth, accidents, and even death. I’m not sure if Waugh wanted to express the hopelessness of this generation, living in an England struggling to recover from the first World War, before being plunged into the second, or did he perhaps intend it to show the resilience of the people; no matter what they are faced with, they carry on. The characters are not very likeable, using money or other cheap ploys to get out of trouble, and not willing to own up to their own actions. However, I commend Waugh for featuring a gay-though not one that is over the top- character in Miles Malpractice (let it never be said that Waugh is unable to come with amazing names for his characters).

In the end, while the Vile bodies do not change, England does. The second World War starts though Waugh does not really go into detail how this effects the bright young things or if they will even survive the ordeal- either mentally or physically. Perhaps they were never meant to survive anyway, leaving their lifestyle behind in the twenties and thirties, further evolving into something else. If you enjoyed The Great Gatsby then you will definitely enjoy Vile Bodies. I feel they are companion novels which are perhaps read back to back.

You can buy both (plus other works by Waugh) here.
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