Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies”

This is an odd thing to be reading. It’s a 1930 British novel discovered in a roundabout way.  I liked Alduos Huxley’s novel Chrome Yellow and searched Amazon for something similar: an early century comedy of manners, or a compact novel that presents sort of a claustrophobically attached circle of people. Preferably portrayed with and without mercy. A style that bares their naked motives on stage, like Shakespeare would, or Dickens.

It’s interesting how Waugh makes characters and scenes so alive with so little effort. There is not much accompanying narrative to describe who they are or where they are; just enough to be efficient  The story moves via dialog, often as sharp as a razor. Waugh also has a knack for profiling characters by their names (Miss Runcible, Mr. Outrage, Fanny Throbbing). A few pages in and I’m on the boat with them, seasick and singing hymns for the benefit of Mrs. Ape.

The Angels (named after Virtues) stay aft on the ship and in second class on the train. We’ll have to see what becomes of them. Waugh became a converted Catholic around the time this book came out. He was 27.   Guilt?  It didn’t stop him from writing some (reportedly) even more scathing books afterwards.

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