Saturday, July 26, 2008

To tell the truth

So I have this copy of Brideshead Revisited -- which, yes, was actually a novel once upon a time, even though you'd never know it from reading the advance press for the new movie version, all of which proceeds from the assumption that this film is based on the 1981 miniseries, which was so splendid that art essentially did not exist prior to that date. But anyway, I've been flipping through my old, non-movie-tie-in copy of the book lately and wondering what to make of the blurbs for this and other works by Waugh. On the cover, between the men's legs, is this quick endorsement:
"Waugh's finest achievement." - New York Times
And a blurb on the back agrees:
"This is Waugh's best. Can one say more of genius?"
- E.L. Lewis, Library Journal
Very well. But look what happens when you turn to the final page, the one labeled "Also by Evelyn Waugh":
"One of Evelyn Waugh's best..." - New York Times Book Review

"...Unquestionably the best book Mr. Waugh has written."
- Saturday Review

"...Mr. Waugh has never written more brilliantly."
- New York Times
I think this collection of praise is meant to make me want to read one, or all, of these reputed masterworks, but all that contradictory hyperbole leaves me feeling a bit dizzy. I have the uneasy sense that, when I close this book and put it back on the shelf, the various reviewers will begin to argue among themselves. I am tempted to maintain my conscientious objector status.

Supposing I do decide to read on, maybe you can advise me: What's your favorite Waugh? ...Ha ha, only joking! If God meant us to read, He wouldn't have given us television. I won't fight the zeitgeist: What's your favorite miniseries?


Levi Stahl said...

Brideshead is most definitely not Waugh's best. I'd recommend starting with Decline and Fall or A Handful of Dust. If you like those, you can't then go wrong with Scoop, Put Out More Flags, or The Loved One.

Or, if you don't want to commit to a novel, you might just check out his short stories to start. They contain much of the biting satire of his novels, and in fact some are essentially workings-out of ideas and plots that he would later expand.

Mollie (another one) said...

I like The Loved One. It's a wee bit one-note, but unfailingly entertaining.