Tag Archives: Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh

I have to thank those of you who mentioned Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’ when I asked for books on Victoriana or death because without them The Converted One would never have ordered this book for me and I would have been missing out on a treat. In fact only hours ago Granny Savidge Reads was discussing what a ‘hoot’ she found this as a read. No it’s not a funny book about Victoriana but a rather wonderful and whimsical book about the business of death and one I would insist you all go out and read, even if you don’t think it’s a very you book.

As ‘The Loved One’ opened I wasn’t sure that I was going to get on with it too well. It had a group of pompous British expatriates discussing many things banal in the material heights of Los Angeles. It is here and in this company that Dennis Barlow, an English poet, has come to stay with his uncle Sir Francis and tried to make a name for himself. However Dennis hasn’t managed and instead finds himself reading books behind a desk at a rather unsuccessful pet’s funeral parlour and not really getting anywhere in life, though seemingly happy with his lot.

“Dennis was a young man of sensibility rather than of sentiment. He had lived his twenty-eight years at arm’s length from violence, but he came of a generation which enjoys a vicarious intimacy with death. Never, it so happened, had he seen a human corpse until that morning when, returning tired from night duty, he found his host strung to the rafters. The spectacle had been rude and momentarily unnerving; but his reason accepted the event as part of the established order.”

This isn’t set to last and in fact doesn’t as very early on Sir Francis is fired from his Hollywood job at Megalopolitan Studio’s and decides to take his own life, in doing so his nephew Dennis is left in charge of the funeral and ends up in the necropolis ‘Whispering Glades’ where death seems like a wonderful option and can have all the finest trimmings and sometimes come out looking better than you did when you were alive. “Why, if he’d sat on an atom bomb, they’d make him presentable.” That line and its delivery made me laugh for about ten minutes. It’s very dark humour with sprinklings of an almost campness throughout, or maybe just a wry smile throughout.

“A young lady rose from a group of her fellows to welcome him, one of the new race of exquisite, amiable, efficient young ladies whom he had met everywhere in the United States. She wore a white smock and over her sharply supported left breast was embroidered the words, Mortuary Hostess.
‘Can I help you in any way?’
‘I came to arrange about a funeral.’
‘Is it for yourself?’”

It is going through the rigmarole of funeral procedures and arrangements for his uncle that Dennis meets the beautiful Aimee Thanatogenos, a corpse cosmetician, and becomes besotted starting not only one of the funniest and slightly outrageous books I have had the good fortune of reading, but also the unlikeliest but most readable love triangles between Dennis, Aimee and an embalmer called Mr Joyboy that leads to a rather shock ending I wasn’t expecting.

“We had a Loved One last month who passed over with electrical cord. Even Mr Joyboy could do nothing with that. We had to wind a scarf right up to the chin. But suspenders should come out quite satisfactorily.”

I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future. In fact I am aiming to have a collection rather like this…

It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948. I am pretty sure that this is destined to be one of my favourite books of recent years and quite possibly will be heading into my top 40 along with Neil Bartlett’s dark gem ‘Skin Lane’ (I have been very lucky with some excellent reads of late). I think that Waugh is also an author that may become a favourite, this is nothing like ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and yet equally brilliant in its difference from it. Which way with Waugh next?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Evelyn Waugh, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #16

Thank goodness it’s Saturday, and I don’t know about you but here it is glorious sunshine so I won’t do a long post as I am sure, like me, you will want to spend most of your day out in it. It’s been a four day week here in the UK and it’s a weird one because I always feel so much more tired after working four days than if I have worked five, why is that? So on with some bookish odds and sods…

My internet has been evil and sporadic this week, so I have no link of the week, but touch wood after a very nice man came and sorted it yesterday it should be back on… I have so many of your blogs to catch up on, so do bear with me and I have been rather busy again this week, it seems like in the build up to Brazil (which is seven months away) I am going into overdrive in order to make sure the Brazil Fund is brimming and I have enough features up my sleeve to keep the magazine happy while I vanish for three months. Sorry you probably don’t really want to know about that haha. To illustrate how busy I have been, I haven’t even managed to get round to opening some of these…

I know shocking isn’t it! Who knows what treats lie in wait for me inside those parcels? I will report back in due course of course (I am opening them tonight when I get back) and let you know. I did get two little belated birthday parcels this week from The Converted One and they arrived thanks to some of your Victorian/deathly recommendations…

‘Falling Angels’ by Tracey Chevalier (who I am appalled I have never read a book written by before) is pretty much set in Highgate, where I will be most of the day today, and is one I am itching to read. The other ‘The Loved One’ is one many of you recommended by Evelyn Waugh who I have wanted to read much more of too so that’s perfect. The Converted One is narked because it’s not the cover that was ordered, I don’t know if you can send a book back on that basis? I collect the art deco covered one’s as you can see from my Brideshead Revisited thoughts last year back in 2008. Yes thats  yet another author I swore I would read more books by and then didn’t which brings me to my Contemporary vs. Classic post.

Thank you to everyone who left thoughtful, helpful and insightful comments I am mulling them all over (as are a few publishers I believe, it wasn’t an anti publisher post because I know someone’s been saying that) and especially big thanks goes to those of you who too the time to give me your wonderful lists of fabulous reading through the decades. I never expected any of you would and those who did I think deserve a special extra thanks. I will be emailing you all. I did say I would do mine and its hard blinking work and I want to get it spot on so you will be seeing those here next week, aren’t I a tease?

Right, I best be off because a busy Saturday of Highgate and the sunshine awaits, I am also meeting the author Natasha Solomons this afternoon for tea and cakes (I believe she has snuck me a goodie bag from the Sceptre event I couldn’t make yesterday too) in a secret hidden café with the most amazing skyline views, mind you in this weather I feel a quintessential picnic of cakes in a park with lashings of ginger beer might be more appropriate! Have a lovely Saturday, let me know what you’re doing etc, and hopefully see you tomorrow for the latest NTTVBG to discuss ‘Skin Lane’ which I have just completely amazed by. What book has blown you away of late?

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Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits

The Reader’s Table

I mentioned a while ago that whilst I was milling in Waterstones I happened upon  a table filled with an authors favourite books. The Waterstone’s Writers Table is a great idea, have a very popular author who many people love to read telling you what their favourite reads. Well it works if you love the author and so far the ones they have chosen apart from Philip Pullman I havent read a word of but I feel I would love Faulks and Mosse should I read them.

I then had the thought that a writers table is great, but wouldn’t a readers table in a bookshop be great? Well I decided that I rather than just start rearranging a display in Waterstones there and then I would go home and think about my forty favourite reads of all time and then make an all new page on the blog so you can see them. And I have almost done it…

You see forty books is actually much harder than you think and after hours and hours of listing I came up with 24, then I went away from it and came back with 57. I started whittling this down until I came up with around 43 considered 37 of which where definates leaving six of them are fighting as to which will make it into the final three. Well tha battle is still on and so am leaving it for a few days but leaving you with my Top 20 as it stands today and you can find them here.

The top ten was really, really easy… in fact actually the top fifteen was really easy then then it gets harder and harder. Which was my favourite? Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier of course though it was a close fight to the death between that and Wilkie Collin’s ‘The Woman in White’. There is another thing that has come out of this delightful little excercise and that is the desire to re-read quite a lot of my favourites. Rebecca, The Woman in White and The Time Travellers Wife all may have to go back onto my TBR in the neare future. Is this something that any of you ever do at all?

I also noticed that despite having written some of my favourite books I have never read another book by some of the authors in the top 20 let alone the top 40. Obviously some of them have only written one book, however I definately need to read more Wilkie Collins (I am desperate to try ‘Armadale’ and may now have to treat myself as have more long train journeys this weekend to see my mother and my Gran), John Boyne, Evelyn Waugh and Cormac McCarthy. I am also aware I need to read a lot more classics as I think this will change the list, which is a constant everchanging work in progress.

If any of you want to do your own ‘Readers Table’ page do let me know, and do say where you saw it hahaha! So which books would you have in your top twenty? Can you guess what might make it in my my top 40 – 21? i look forward to your thoughts and hope you like the new page!

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Filed under Book Thoughts

The House At Midnight – Lucie Whitehouse

I had mentioned in a previous post that I really wanted to read a book set in a grand stately home whilst I myself stayed in the same setting. Now my intention was to read the book, which was Lucie Whitehouse’s debut novel ‘The House At Midnight’, while I was there but being busy took over and so its taken me a fair while to actually sit down and read it. In fact actually until Thursday I was only about 25 pages in, which then having book group meant it was held off an evening. Last night I finally got myself all curled up on the sofa and before I knew it five hours had gone by and the book was finished.

‘The House At Midnight’ is a tale set in Stoneborough Manor, in deepest Oxfordshire. In these grand surroundings a group of friends meet after Lucas Heathfield inherits the property from his uncle Patrick. Lucas’ grand scheme is to use this house as a weekend retreat for all his university friends to escape from the hustle and bustle of their city lives now most of them are in London. However within days of their first stay at the Manor things start to change between them.

Lucas declares his love for his best friend Joanna (who is also our narrator of the novel) something the group of friends has been expecting for years. There are the old sayings though that ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ and that ‘friendships shouldn’t become relationships’ and as the lines, not only between Joanna and Lucas but within the rest of the group too, blur between friendship and more things becoming increasingly more complex and darker. Throughout the year that follows desire mounts, sexuality flows and a whole mix of emotions arise all under the confines of a Manor which slowly but surely seems to be having a strange effect on Lucas who becomes more and more obsessed about his past and the dark secrets that lie in it and also the secrets that lie in all of his friends lives.

I admit I was expecting from the cover that this would be an epic chilling, thrilling ghost story. It’s not. What it is in fact is a domestic drama about a group of people as they reach their thirties and how emotions, desire and greed can push people together and pull them apart shattering relationships and friendships as they go. In many ways it reminded me of a British middle-class homage to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, I could also see shades of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in terms of the relationships between the younger generations in that novel.

I was really impressed with Lucie Whitehouse’s debut, and though I ended up reading something quite different from what I thought I was getting, I honestly couldn’t put it down. Even though this wasn’t a ghost story it’s incredibly gripping and has one heck of a twist in its tail for you. Through out the book you’re constantly wondering where the next twist and drama is going to come from. Though it isn’t technically a thriller either the way that Whitehouse writes she doesn’t need to leave a cliff hanger at every chapter ending to make you want to read the end. I found this an immensely enjoyable read and look forward to whatever Lucie writes next, highly recommended.

And speaking of houses at midnight, I will be shifting between houses at midnight tonight I am moving house this weekend! It’s all been quite sudden and I have been keeping it close to my chest as didn’t want to jinx it. I love the new place, its great and its also HUGE… all the more room for more books!!!

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The Best Book You’ve Never Read?

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet… What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

Hmmm this question from Booking Through Thursday has really made me think, literally all day, hence why the slightly late blog from me (that and trying to finish Netherland). I couldnt decide what one best book I havent read yet as there were so many so I thought I would do a top ten instead. How id I decide what made it on the list? Books that I have always wanted to read, books I have always been told I must read and books by my favourite authors I havent gotten round to yet!
1. The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
2. Madame Bovary -Gustave Flaubert
3. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
4. Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky
5. The Accidental Tourist – Anne Tyler
6. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
7. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
8. Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
9. The Secret Scripture – Sebastien Barry
10. A Handful of Dust – Evelyn Waugh

Please note: this list is technically subject to daily change as my mood for what I want to read and what someone might recommend me tomorrow may become the next best book I have never read!
So what are yours?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Daphne Du Maurier, Evelyn Waugh, Margaret Atwood, Nancy Mitford, Radclyffe Hall, Sebastian Barry

Collecting The Classics

Only six days into the New Year and I am going to have to edit one of my resolutions already. It was that tricky one of not really buying anymore books. I think what I should change it to ‘not buy anymore new books’ or ‘only buy classics from charity shops’. Or maybe a mix of the two, I’ll work it out later? Anyway on my way to Sainsbury’s to stock up on post holiday food and happened to stumble into my two favourite charity shops. By the time I left I had bought five ‘classics’ and all for under £3, now really how could I say no?


Cider With Rosie – Laurie Lee
I didn’t know very much about this when I saw it on the shelf and yet I instantly knew the name. However looking at the blurb it sounded quite interesting. A memoir of life in a Cotswold village in the 1920’s before cars or electricity revealing what life was like in the not so distant past that is also like another world. I can’t wait to read this book.

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Another book that I know very little about but have seen so many times on peoples shelves (well we all like a nosey don’t we) and have been recommended is this one. So I decided that with a classics year ahead it was time for me to bite the bullet and read this one. I didn’t realise that it was funny, or is meant to be, what’s always put me off I think is that its labelled as a ‘war novel’ and sometimes you just have a bit too much war.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another book that I have always wanted to read but have yet to, I do hope it’s better than ‘Tales of the Jazz Age’ which I didn’t enjoy at all. This is meant to be one of the great, great modern classics. In my head I am going to love this as much as I did Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
I always got this and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ mixed up and having read one I was delighted to find the other in a very short space of time. The biggest thing that made me want to read this apart from it being ‘groundbreaking’ and set in a mental institution was the ‘tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched’ that character sounds far too promising and fascinating. Plus I haven’t seen the film so have that to look forward to afterwards.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
I actually owned this for a while but never read it and as it had a coffee stain and was given to me I gave it to charity. I managed to find a new pristine copy, but may also have to go back for another 70’s edition that Novel Insights wants and we may do this as a Rogue Book Group choice in the future. This caused controversy on its release due to the fact it reconstructed the murder of a farmer and his family in Kansas in 1959 exploring the investigation and everything that happened to those involved. After devouring Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ I though this would be right up my street.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Kate Summerscale, Truman Capote

The Savidge Dozen

Blimey so a reading year is over… a year of some good reading, some difficult reading, some readers block plus some dire reading and some frankly amazing reading. In fact there was so much amazing reading I changed my mind and didn’t do what I did last year and have a top ten, instead am doing as the delightful Dove Grey Reader had done and am doing my version of the Man Booker Dozen. So thirteen then… unlucky for some but not for these authors who should feel very lucky (I am being facetious) it was a really hard choice actually, really, really hard. I did stick to last years rule though of only one book per author. So here goes, in reverse order…

13. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
There was uproar in the blogosphere when this didn’t even make it onto the Man Booker Prize long list and after reading it I could see why. A thought provoking, sparse and raw novel about dealing with cancer this book was also filled with heart and emotion. Helen invites her friend Nicola to stay after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, what follows is nights of cleaning beds, friendships pushed to breaking point and possibly one of the most honest fictional voices I heard this year.

12. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
I think if Nancy Mitford was still around (what is it with the Mitford’s being everywhere this year, more on them later) she would probably have been a massive fan of this novel. All at once this novel is sharply witty, comical, touching, observant and sad. Juliet Ashton became possibly my favourite character of the year as a writer struggling to find the next book in her and befriending the said society (it’s too long to write the title each time) and corresponding through letters with the many wonderful characters on a post occupied Guernsey. Superb!

11. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
This book was simply unputdownable, and yes that is a word I have made up but should exist. When 15 year old Michael meets older woman Hannah when he falls ill he doesn’t know this is a relationship that will be in their lives forever. After becoming lovers one day Hannah vanishes only to reappear in Michael’s later life and to make him think about his life and the country he lives in totally differently. A new interesting, horrifying and thought provoking look at the Holocaust. Will make you think, a lot.

10. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy
I honestly genuinely believe this is one of the most over looked gem books of the year, and not because I know the author and think she is fabulous. I would hope you’d know by now that I am not that sort of person. This book celebrates London and has some of the most fabulous characters in it. Be it from the story of Robert Sutton who is selling his laundrette (where everyone leaves their secrets in their pockets) after a lifetime of hard work to the homeless men who sleep under an archway on a old battered sofa the characters in this book are full of life and I secretly hoped for this to be the start of a series. A love letter in novel form by the author to South London!

9. When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson
My love for the writing of Kate Atkinson went stratospheric this year with the third so far in the Jackson Brodie ‘literary crime fiction’ series. Having also read its predecessor ‘One Good Turn’ this year I didn’t think her coincidence based complex plots could get any cleverer, I was wrong. This book is much darker than the previous two and grittier yet still in parts incredibly funny. It also of course had one of the characters of the year in it through Reggie the sixteen year old girl who saves Brodie life and yet brings an old flame and a mystery that needs solving into his life on top. It’s so difficult to explain this book, so simply put… buy it!

8. Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Ok so this book has been out a while but sometimes I get behind, I mean The Reader is eleven years old, so be kind. I ironically had no expectations of this book at all which sees the children of a small village on a tropical island receive a new teacher and a new book to study ‘Great Expectations’. The new teacher Pop Eye or Mr Watts takes on the class when no one else will due to war in the South Pacific. This reminded me slightly of Half Of A Yellow Sun for the graphicness of war which when you start reading the book you wouldn’t imagine you are going to have in the story ahead of you. Definitely my most shocking read of the year, amazingly written and celebratory of fiction and all it can inspire.

7. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
When Novel Insights and I decided to do this as one of our Rogue Book Group choices I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. I was completely won over by Waugh’s stunning writing and possibly my favourite villain of the year in the form of Lady Marchmain. Charles Ryder reflects on returning to Brideshead during the war on his own history with the building and the Marchmain’s who owned it and their privileged life style in the post Second World War glory days. However Charles experience has a nasty sting in the tale that though he has tried to forget he simply cannot. A genuine classic.

6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s –John Boyne
If there is anyone left who hasn’t seen the movie (which was almost as good as the book, a rarity) or who hasn’t read this book themselves I do not want to give a single bit of plot of this book away as if I had known what was coming I don’t think it would have worked in the same way. I will say that it tells of a young boy Bruno who is forced to move from his childhood home with his mother and sister to join their father for his work. The land they move to is in the middle of nowhere though eventually Bruno befriends another young boy through a fence. Through their innocent friendship Bruno is brought into a much darker world one that will change his life and his family’s lives forever.

5. Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
I admit that the title I found both intriguing and incredibly off putting, however a random purchase in Sainsbury’s (I know, I know) led to me reading possibly one of the most surprising and remarkable books of the year. Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 you are first lead to believe this is a novel about a resentful wife being made to live in the cotton farm of her nightmares she swiftly calls Mudbound. What Jordan manages to bring in to this incredible novel is stories of family breakdowns, affairs, war and racism. Not always comfortable reading, especially one sickening scene, this book absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for Jordan’s second novel whenever it comes.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
Now shock horror, Mr Savidge who never really liked to read non-fiction has two in his top ten. The first of which is Kate Summerscale’s simply wonderful, if crime can be wonderful, retelling of the events of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’. Back in 1860 in the small town of Road in Wiltshire a horrific murder took place one which the local police simply couldn’t figure out so at a time when detectives were a new thing Scotland Yard sent Mr Whicher to investigate. The murder both provoked national hysteria and also inspired many authors such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle. Being a fan of crime fiction and of books this was a perfect read and made all the facts down to train timetables easy to digest until you find yourself detecting alongside.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I most people will know this book and I know it had been a book that I had wanted to read for a long time and so after sneakily buying myself and Novel Insights a 50p charity shop copy each it became a Rogue Book Group choice. Scout tells the tale of her town in the 1930’s Deep South of America. Her father Atticus (a wonderful character) is defending Tom Robinson of rape, Tom is black and in a time and town where racism is rife he finds himself and subsequently his family struggling with the town and struggling for justice. I loved it, even though until about 50 pages in it hadn’t gripped me suddenly I was hooked.

2. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
In a year that has seen a lot of McEwan pass in front of my eyes, and has seen him become one f my favourite authors, it was this book in particular that wowed me of all of his I read. Set in the early sixties it is Edward and Florence’s wedding night. For uptight and inexperienced couple, through not speaking and misunderstood actions, this is the night that will change their lives forever and have devastating results. A superb look at how society has changed and how people have become more informed on life since, but also a sad and startling look at innocence, communication and what was expected of differing genders in those times, plus what was morally or socially correct. A small book with a lot of punch and bite. Oh, and its the second year that Mr McEwan has been in my top three books of the year!

1. The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley
What had initially led me to read this book was the idea of letters that spanned a huge amount of history. Having, until this book, only known of Deborah Cavendish (though not as a Mitford because of her name, but because I know Chatsworth well), Nancy Mitford (as an author) and Unity Mitford (as the supposed mother of Hitler’s child) to a small degree; I fell in love with all the sisters (possibly bar Diana, she didn’t have being crazy as an excuse to liking Hitler like Unity) and thought the amount of British history contained in one book was phenomenal. I also loved their play on language, thoughts on society, books and people. I defy anyone to read this and not be 100% in love with it and ready to start again once you have put it down. This book has unquestionably inspired me to read a lot more non fiction in 2009. Best book of 2008 by a clear mile, no offense to any others.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Lee, Helen Garner, Hillary Jordan, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Lloyd Jones, Mary Ann Shaffer, Stella Duffy

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

So after leaving book group (I know shocking) myself and Polly have started ‘Rogue Book Group’ in which we only read books that we both already own or read the books that have been recently made into films and then watch the movie. Oddly this is how the previous book group started with ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ so it seemed write to do it again and start with Brideshead Revisited especially as we both wanted one of the fabulous old covers as shown. See sometimes you should judge a book by its cover.

Charles Ryder is a bit of a misfit, he doesn’t seem to have a particular place in school society until he starts at Oxford and meets Sebastian (a grown man who carries a bear everywhere he goes) someone who is he warned to avoid. Soon the two of them have become the thickest of friends with an added certain tension in the background. Before long he is invited to meet Sebastian’s family at Brideshead. There he meets Sebastian’s mysterious and enticing sister and his domineering mother, the fabulous, Lady Marchmain. He also discovers the catholic undercurrent that rules everyone in the families lives some for good most for bad. Before long he is embroiled in the entire goings on at Brideshead and a tug of war for his attentions from the siblings. It doesn’t sound as thrilling as it is, seriously its brilliant.

I loved Evelyn Waugh’s tone and prose with his writing and I didn’t think I would, it was stunning I think one of the best written books I have ever read. I wasn’t expecting humour in the novel yet the scenes between Charles Ryder and his father were absolutely hilarious. In equal measure this book is filled with venom (Lady Marchmain) and sadness and it all mingles into what I think is one of my favourite ‘classics’ – hoorah, a classic that deserves its hype.

Sadly neither myself nor Polly had finished the book before we saw the movie (which is very good despite reviews saying the contrary) and therefore when I was reading the final third of the book the characters I had visualised clashed slightly with the ones in the film but didn’t ruin it by any means. What I found shocking was not the relationship between Sebastian and Charles but the obvious contempt for Catholicism Evelyn Waugh had, religion really ruined and tortured some of the characters in this novel and back when the book came out I can imagine a lot of people had issues with that.

A beautifully written incredibly deep and dark tale which is delivered subtly and I just thoroughly enjoyed, I know I will read this again.

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Books To Film, Evelyn Waugh, Penguin Classics, Review

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosely

Now if you are sat there thinking ‘he can’t have read that mammoth book in only a few days’… I haven’t. This has actually been a book I have been devouring in fits and starts for almost a month, well three weeks or so. It’s so big I couldn’t carry it everywhere with me on the tube, so have been reading other books along side. ‘The Mitford’s – Letters Between Six Sisters’ is an amazing book, a collection of the famous sisters letters to each other over 80 years, edited by Diana Mitford’s daughter in law Charlotte Mosley. Edited I think is an unfair word in this case; she hasn’t merely compiled them and then cut out bits and bobs. She has thoroughly researched the sisters so that as you read each different era you get a good introduction by Mosley as to what was going on in each of the sister’s lives and the life of the family of Mitford’s as a whole.

Not that I have read anything about the Mitford sisters before, though bizarrely I have heard of them often, but I can understand J. K. Rowling’s quote on the front that ‘the story of the extraordinary Mitford’s has never been told as well as they tell it themselves’ and she is write, there is no hole barred here. The sisters are constantly frank with each other through times of loving each other and times where they hated each other as some of them did. But its not just the times when they think each other is ‘wondair’ or each other are ‘hateful’ and all the turmoil they go through as a family, its an amazing look through history as the Mitford girls seemed to know everyone separately.

Nancy writes in fascinating detail of the family and how she found the constraints of her parents and the family too much. She also writes of how she writes, why and a fascinating insight into some of the other great writers of the last hundred years such as her close friend Evelyn Waugh. Pamela wants a simple quite life and can discuss any meal she has eaten in the last thirty years, has a love of farming and also became a lesbian although only once or twice do the sisters discuss this. Diana, the family beauty, becomes a fascist, after marrying the heir to Guinness she has an affair with a politician and is jailed during the Second World War. Then there is Unity who became a close friend (and has a slight obsession with) Hitler causing a conflict between her love for him and the love for her country which led to her shooting herself. There is Jessica who became a fighter for social change and ended up living in America writing about funerals and prisons. Finally we have Deborah who became Duchess of Devonshire, owner and restorer of Chatsworth, and who mingles with royalty (describing Diana as ‘clever with the public but truly she was mad’) and the Kennedy’s. This is truly simply outstanding, both for the historical and for the tales of six women who became celebrities without trying to and couldn’t see quite what all the fuss was about. What is also interesting is as they get older they too look back on their older letters and indeed themselves.

This is possibly my favourite book of the year so far. I am now officially a Mitford-holic and will be reading much more by them and about them. Where else would you get such insight in 900 pages of Britain from both the poor and the rich (the sisters weren’t all loaded as some people believe) told by some of the most fascinating, mischievous, voices that you could ever wish to hear.

Another thing that’s been special about this book bar all the above is it has been the first non-fiction book that I have enjoyed, recommended to everyone and has just made me read and read. It’s also a book that has given me lots and lots to read in the future. I now want to read books that they recommend each other; some of these included Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Mary Anne’, everything by E.M. Forster, Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. As well as everything that they wrote themselves, particularly Nancy, as well as everything by Evelyn Waugh, so that’s made the book even more of a treasure. I will leave you saying this book is truly ‘wondair’ and a final quote from Jessica on reading. Buy this book everyone should read it!

“1) Get a supply of books you have always meant to read, but never had time, such as Plutarch’s Lives, War & Peace, Bacon’s Essays etc. You’ll find your attention unaccountably wandering – you seem to have read the same paragraph several times and still can’t quite get its import. Put the books on a chair to be read some time later. 2) Next, fetch up some novels that you know one ought to have read in childhood but never did – Hardy, Conrad, the lesser-known works of Dickens. Same, alas, as in 1) above. 3) Find some books that you know you like, as you have read them before – Catch 22? Catcher In The Rye? Pride & Prejudice? (You’ll have to fill in the titles of your own favourites). This is far more easy going, far more pleasurable. 4) Try some collections of short stories, the shorter the better. Also, Grimm’s Fairy Tales – that sort of thing. That way the constant interruptions – meals, pills, baths etc – don’t specifically matter. 5) Above all – lay in a huge supply of mags, the more trivial the better, and leaf through them languidly while waiting for your cup of tea. That, anyway, is what I usually do.”

I was really sad to put this book down, in fact slightly bereft, but on with more!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Collins, Nancy Mitford, Review