Sunday, May 12, 2013

Vile Bodies

My parents were pretty laid back about my education, except when I got my summer reading list for 11th grade.  We ended up not discussing it (because it had apparently been chosen by Sr. Maureen Christi - the department head - over the objections of my 11th grade teacher), but the third book on the list was Vile Bodies.  I'd never seen my parents so thrilled by anything I'd done in school.  Every time I picked it up, they rhapsodized about Evelyn Waugh and referenced his other novels.  I went through a Waugh phase myself in the early 90s, so I understand, and lobbied for Vile Bodies whenever Ravelry's Classic Literature group voted for our next read-a-long, particularly after reading Bright Young People.

It's been more than 20 years since I've read Vile Bodies, and while I wasn't disappointed, it wasn't quite as interesting as I thought it would be.  More a series of vignettes than an actual  novel, it follows Adam Fenwick-Symes through a series of financial windfalls and disasters (and corresponding engagements and breakups with Nina Blount).  They're actually a bit bland, but their story provides a framework on which to hang the stories of American evangelist Mrs. Melrose Ape (who's actually a madam) and her "angels" (who perform for wealthy and willing gentlemen), Nina's cinema-obsessed and apparently senile father, disreputable hotel owner Lottie Crump, tragic party-girl Agatha Runcible, and various caricatures of the nobility, the press, and the Smart Set.  Extremely amusing, but ultimately lightweight, it's a one-sitting book to be enjoyed but perhaps not analyzed.

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