Amy Reads Books

Vile Bodies (Penguin Modern Classics)

Vile Bodies (Penguin Modern Classics) - Evelyn Waugh Evelyn Waugh's second novel Vile Bodies is on the one hand a type of romantic comedy, following the attempts of Adam Fenwick-Symes, an out of fortune writer, and Nina Blount, the daughter of an eccentric Colonel to get married. On the other hand, however, it's a funny yet bitting satire on the 'Young Generation', partying themselves to death against a backdrop of a changing world.This is the first Waugh novel I've read, I'm familiar with the recent film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, but that's about it; so I was unsure as to what to expect. The novel opens on board a ship coming from France to England; and it is clear from the outset that there will be a sprawling cast of characters. It is is here we are first introduced to Adam, in addition to Mr Outrage, the recently ousted Prime Minister, the various society ladies and the Evangelical Christian Mrs Ape and her singing angels (I couldn't help but wonder if Cole Porter read this novel before setting about Anything Goes, which features an ex-Christian Reno Sweeney and her singing angels). Keeping track of all these characters was at first rather daunting, but the novel soon settled on focusing on just a handful.One of the things I had read about Vile Bodies was that there was a change in tone during the novel due, in part no doubt, to the fact that Waugh's first marriage (to a female Evelyn) broke down during the book's creation. However, I didn't feel that the change in tone jarred with the early part of the novel; the humour remained, it was only that some of the characters (mainly Adam) became more aware of the fact that the way they were living was perhaps a little less perfect than they had imagined. There is also something remarkably chilling about Waugh's prediction of another war, which comes at the end of the novel, when it's publication was in 1930; a time before Hitler had even managed to take hold of Germany.Generally, the prose throughout was humorous, and the characters really did speak in the stereotypical upper-middle-class way that we tend to imagine; all 'darling' and 'divine'. I will admit to feeling a slight distance between myself and the characters; but I think this could have been on purpose-they lived a life that is totally inaccessible for most people and the slight disconnect between characters and reader is symbolic of this. Really the only characters I felt sympathy for were Adam and, in the later parts of the novel, Agatha Runcible, but strangely, this didn't really make my enjoyment of the novel any less.The only strange thing that I really found with Vile Bodies was that whilst Waugh was writing of a type of lifestyle that had faded in the late 1920s/early 1930s; the world of gossip columnists (one of the funniest sections of the novel is Adam's misadventures as a society columnist), heavy partying and high-society gatherings (one part of the novel takes place at an early formula one race) doesn't seem so removed from the world that we can be confronted with when you open a copy of Vogue, Vanity Fair and various London papers.Despite the detachment from the characters, I was totally eaten up by this 1920s Gossip Girl with an edge. I'll definitely be picking up some more Waugh.