What’s it about?
Brideshead Revisited is two things: a) a coming of age story, and b) a critique of religion (or lack thereof). The novel starts with Charles Ryder – the narrator of this novel in a Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby kind of way – heading to Oxford University in the 1920s. He falls in with a rather dull lot, until a young man called Lord Sebastian Flyte splutters into his life one night via the somewhat unorthodox method of puking through Charles’ window. The two (plus Sebastian’s teddy bear, Aloysius) become firm friends and Sebastian takes Charles to his family home of Brideshead; a family home that Sebastian, for reasons that are never really made fully clear, resents. Charles finds his place in this Catholic family, watching as Sebastian falls apart, as Cordelia grows up, as the devout Lady Marchmain perishes, as Julia discovers love, as everything goes completely wrong. And then, during the Second World War, he is called back to the house that built his character, and he remembers.
Is it any good?
This, I think, is a book that is best administered in small doses. I enjoyed the prose, Waugh’s writing style, the theological debates and dialogue in general, but I did not particularly enjoy the novel as a (un)cohesive whole. I felt that not enough loose ends were tied up at the end, and that some of the characters seemed to jump around too much in terms of personality. He used the phrases ‘at length’ and ‘presently’ far too much for my liking. But, then again, this is a good book. A seminal work. I feel better for having read it, and I genuinely did enjoy it; the nostalgia of it, the rich descriptions, the funny yet sweet little relationship (and I mean in a romantic sense, because it is obvious that Sebastian and Charles are, in the beginning, a gay couple) between Sebastian and Charles. What’s more, I enjoyed Waugh’s unflinching look at Catholicism, and how people use/abuse religion just to make themselves feel better.
How long did it take to read: six days
For fans of: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen-style soap operas, theological debate
This book tastes like: cucumber sandwiches