Summary: Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.
Final Rating: ★★☆☆☆
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if you go into something with extremely high expectations, you usually walk away just as disappointed, if not more. Such was the case with Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. One of my favorite books of all time- one I devoured over the short period of two days- is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I have searched and searched for books similar to that one, and most people say this is a close hit. So, I picked it up, expecting fantastical writing, complex, difficult characters, a magical setting, witty and thought-provoking dialogue and prose… and… nothing happened for me.
I understand that BR is a classic. I understand that some people adore it and call it a masterpiece and it is among the favorites of some of the finest readers out there. But I didn’t get its point. Maybe I would have had I lived in that era, or cared about that era, or had been a lot more knowledgeable about the social, not political, aspects about that era. But outside of that, it was so… meh.
The plot had SO much potential. I hate nothing more than wasted potential, and the next thing I hate the most is a plot that isn’t cohesive. It’s scattered all over the place; it seemed to be choppy, divided into sections rather than a constant flow of events, one leading to another, that leading to another. I felt like Waugh would leave an interesting sub-plot unfinished or loose because he got bored with it. The book explored themes of unrequited love, religious conflict, alcoholism, adultery… but none of these passed a message. Everything that was happening left something to be desired. There was NO climax- the storyline didn’t spark my interest in the first hundred pages or towards the end. It felt flat, mundane. Nothing happened. 1/5
The characters annoyed the crap out of me. I don’t have a problem with anti-heroes. I don’t have a problem if I don’t like any of the characters in a book, as long as that’s what the author intended. One of the reasons I loved The Secret History so much was because Donna Tartt intended the characters to be despised; they were portrayed as callous, soulless, evil sons of bitches, and you felt that, but you were so immersed in their personalities and their callousness that you couldn’t put the book down. Waugh didn’t expand upon his characters’ clear negativities; it seemed as if he was almost making excuses for them. Julia was someone I hated, and if there weren’t almost ten pages excusing her horrible behavior, I would have been fine with it. The protagonist I hated. He was whiny and naive. Cordelia was a flat character, Brideshead was a flat character, Mrs. Marchmain and Mr. Marchmain and EVERYBODY in between was a flat character, except ONE. Sebastian Marchmain. I felt like he was the only character who could offer something so interesting to the narrative and to the storyline in general. He was the only character who seemed to be aware of the social and cultural decay he was growing up in, yet Sebastian, as a character, was dropped in the second half of the book. I wanted to know more about him. I wanted to read about him, about his troubles, about his challenges, about his problems. If this book was written from his perspective, it might have been something great, something worth reading and raving about. What a shame. 1.5/5
The only aspect of this book that kept me reading was the setting. I adore books set in large houses with rich families, or settings with European travels, or settings with universities. This had everything. There was university-life, the frivolity it’s paired with (although we saw barely any academia), we saw, of course, Brideshead in all its splendor, magnificence and magic. We saw Italy, we saw parts of England, but I still feel like something was MISSING. I got nothing out of these places. Nothing happened. A setting is important in a novel- it facilitates the narrative, it causes it to flow, but the setting in BR, majestic as it was, did nothing like most other aspects of the novel. 2.5/5
Who am I to judge someone’s writing style? Which is why you should probably not pay attention to this section of my review, because whereas the entire review itself is subjective, this section is HIGHLY subjective. Evelyn Waugh writes skillfully. His command over the language is beautiful, his sentence structure, his figurative language, his rhetoric, the coldness, the tone is good. But did it work for the book? No, it did not. Did it make me want to go out and try something else of his? No, it did not. Was it something different? Something mindblowingly insane? Something worth raving about? Not to me, no. 2/5