S Riaz Reply to on 7 April 2018
|This is an important novel of Evelyn Waugh’s; marking a much more serious, darkly witty and sharply observant style, from his earlier, comic novels. It is widely suggested that this novel was largely the result of his first wife, Evelyn Gardner, or ‘She-Evelyn,’ leaving him for another man after a year of marriage. If so, Waugh certainly had his revenge , as he bitterly skewers his ex-wife, and her lover, in print.
Brenda and Tony Last have been married for five, or six, years, when we meet them. Tony adores his ancestral house, Hetton, his young son, John Andrew and his wife. Brenda, it is soon apparent, is bored to tears. When John Beaver - a scrounging young man, who lounges around bars hoping to be brought a drink, has no job and little income, but is a useful ‘spare man,’ ready to drop everything for a free lunch, or dinner party - takes up a half meant invitation for the weekend, Tony is appalled at his arrival. Apologetically, he leaves Beaver to be baby-sat by Brenda and that, without doubt, is a mistake. Although Tony is blithely unaware of what is going on, pretty soon half of London is aghast at their affair. While Beaver rises in their esteem, Brenda takes a flat and begins to attend every party in London.
This is very much a book of two halves and (a little like “Brideshead Revisited”) the first half is much better than the second. While the first half of Brideshead is so sublime it makes up for the second being not quite so wonderful, this novel does not manage to carry off the trick quite so well. The second half of this was taken from a short story Waugh wrote and, certainly, there is much biographical material in this novel – as well as a truly shocking moment (you’ll know it when you get to it).
Waugh not only turns his vengeful, bitter words against his ex-wife, and her lover (John Heygate), but his satirises his own lack of knowledge about their affair. It is sharply satirical, cruel, vicious and unbearable in parts – the ‘shocking moment,’ takes away any sympathy for Brenda (not that she is particularly sympathetic anyway) and how John Heygate ever showed his face in public again, I have no idea. Still, in parts this is brilliant. I am immediately moved to read the latest biography of Waugh, “A Life Revisited,” and never get bored of this, most brilliant, author.