Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Brideshead Revisited (1 of 143)

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Published 1945

Sentence Summary: Rich people being rich spin in guilt circles until they are saved by Catholicism.

Subtitle: Wodehouse, C.S. Lewis, and Julian Fellowes Have a Baby

First Sentence (Part 1, Chapter 1): 
"I have been here before," I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.

Downton Abbey fangirls, hold on to your riding crops, because the ruling class is suffering the winds of fortune like never before. We come to Brideshead at the end of the war, and are then transported to the times of unsteady peace that preceded it through the memories of Charles Ryder: artist, soldier, friend. The story follows his continually evolving, devolving relationship with the explosive clan at Brideshead. He is first introduced to them as the family of childlike, alcoholic Sebastian, his romantic interest- did I say romantic interest? I meant totally platonic school chum (beautiful, beautiful school chum). Through Ryder's eyes we watch lives of wanton moral and monetary abuse unfold in the idyllic British countryside, at Oxford, and in the more furtive corners of Venice's canals. Unable to avoid the charisma of both lifestyle and individuals, our hero is drawn into the fold and finds his own nastier bits coming to light as the years go by. Without giving anything away- he finds true love, loses it, scrambles for meaning in the world gone mad, and is forced to find his religion- literally. Throughout, the estate at Brideshead falls into a decay that parallels the trajectory of its occupants and the golden era of the moneyed aristocracy ends not with a bang, but a gray and tragic whimper. 

Have you ever finished a book and immediately had the feeling that you will someday feel the need to return to it for a second look? Evelyn Waugh obviously had something to say when he put together Brideshead Revisited, which is largely agreed upon to be his master work, and there's a little something about everything in this social commentary: war, wealth, religion, morality, education, youth, old age. It makes you wonder- are any of those themes capable of being surveyed independently? Really? Like many things you can read the book a variety of ways- critically for its scathing social commentary or romantically, with only an eye for the beautiful language, and any combination of the two. Waugh is a lyricist, when it comes to descriptions. He tricks you right into falling on top of his ethical conclusions. As I sat in noisome cafes, the deteriorating chapel unfolded around me, complete with the smell of Ryder's fresh paint and the musky decay of vegetation in the dark corners. I believe firmly in the concept of location as character and this book sent that sensibility into a tizzy. Still, however absorbed I was in the characters, their travails, and the backdrop on which it all unfolds, I don't know if I actually liked it.

And that is why I will have to give it a few years to brew and then read it again. I know that you don't have to like a book for it to be a masterful work of literature, or even for it to be a decent read, and I feel at my core that Brideshead is, at the very least, the latter (if not the former). I have to wonder if the bitter taste in my mouth upon finishing it does not have something to do with the split between what Waugh believed to be a satisfactory and moral ending, and what I found to be a very simplistic answer to a complicated question. Waugh explores emptiness on many levels, gives beautiful, three-dimensional tours of dissatisfaction, but I found his literary foils of wholeness to be flat and unbelievable. Am I supposed to want to emulate the bland contentment of those characters who do not seem to struggle so with the state of their souls- our Cordelias and Bridesheads? I struggle to want to because they simply don't feel human to me- they are unattainable, undesirable sterility incarnate. 

But maybe it is the fact that I relate far better to the stained and troubled Julia and Charles than I do to their later purified, refined selves that is the warning of the whole book. Either way, I came away deeply affected. Waugh planted his seed, whether I consider it poison or poultice. Is the threat of what I will become worth the fleeting indulgences that make up who I am? Chew on that one for a while- stew in the delicious guilt.

I recommend this for: Downton Abbey geeks, soul searchers, Anglophiles
I do not recommend this for: literalists, staunch militant atheists, Jordan Belfort


<a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/11767277/?claim=4zk3swekw3w">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

This has been a Public Service Announcement! This little book blog can now be followed on bloglovin', should you so desire.

Monday, January 27, 2014

There and Back Again

I have too many books.

I know what you're saying, because a large part of me is also saying it, "You fool! You can never have too many books. You would throw away all we've worked for? All we've collected?" I can only turn to this part of myself sadly and close the mental door with great psychological gravity, leaving that voice with its mouth hanging open, looking betrayed. I can feel its disappointed gaze through the door. It's difficult to do because the fact is that there is a grain of truth in both sides of the dialogue. Perhaps one can never really enough books, good books- but I have come to the realization that I have come to curl, Smaug-like, on my hoard and have closed my eyes to the nature of the treasure on which I so thoughtlessly repose.

I am not speaking of the volumes that have shaken my world, unleashed my imagination, expanded my mind, accompanied me to four AMs, and other cliches of the bookish set, but of the tomes that have added up over time as a matter of convenience. You understand, the allure of the one dollar donation book bin at the supermarket is far too great for someone such as myself. The plant sale/library sale is a trap I will actively strive to walk into. Yard sales encourage working out to fill up one's arms between car door and rickety table laden with paperbacks. Over the past several years I have accumulated 143 books that I OWN, but have not READ. I am not one to own a book for decoration. As I have dedicated myself to weeding through my shelves, I have prided myself on whittling things down to those works that I would recommend to my past self, should she ask. I have recently made efforts to purchase with more discernment, so that this exhausting process can be avoided in the future.

Years of buying to the tune of, "I'll read it later," and then never getting around to it are coming to an end.
This is the challenge:

I will read the 143 books. I am not required to finish a book, should I not enjoy it, but I MUST speak about it here so that I can document the purity of the venture. I am not allowed to take books out of the library during this time with the exception of:

1. Books I have been recommended, loaned, or sent
2. Continuations of series that I am in the midst of
3. Continuations of series that I begin during the project (i.e. Game of Thrones)

It seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, it filled me with trepidation to write it. Maybe that means I have a problem. Either way, the dragon is unleashed now and there's no going back. The hoard is unprotected and now is the time to act.

Wish me luck and happy reading!