I don’t remember how I learned of Evelyn Waugh’s work, but last year I read Scoop, which I found to be a light and funny read. After that, I picked up a few other books by Waugh, and thought I’d finally read Brideshead Revisited, which is his first novel and the one he’s most known for. Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy reading it, and I wonder about all the hype I’ve heard about it.
Brideshead Revisited introduces us to Charles Ryder, following along as he looks back on different points in his life in England. Initially, we meet him during his military training during WWII, when he is temporarily stationed at Brideshead, an estate owned by the Flyte family. Charles looks back on how he first came to Brideshead after meeting Sebastian Flyte at Oxford. Among the strange students he meets, Sebastian stands out from the rest and they end up spending a great deal of time together. Charles ends up meeting the rest of the Flyte family, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for how much their religion influences their relationships.
I think what really frustrated me was the way the story was told, not only in how it jumped back and forth in time, but more for how little the reader is shown. Initially, we look back on Charles’ time with Sebastian, but then later, we jump back to roughly the same time period to focus on Julia, Sebastian’s sister. Julia had been there before, in the background, so it seemed odd to separate them so much.
This separation wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t felt like I was already missing something from the start. From the way Charles described Sebastian, it sounded like he meant a great deal to him. But this was told to me, rather than being shown to me, so I really didn’t understand why Sebastian made such an impression on Charles. Maybe it was implied, like other things seemed to be, but I just didn’t understand the attachment to Sebastian, especially when he later developed a severe drinking problem. In a sense, I didn’t feel that I cared about him either way.
Despite Sebastian being so important, I was confused when it was almost entirely dropped from the story later on, with the focus moving almost entirely to Charles’ relationship with Julia. Apparently, Charles was in love with her before, but we aren’t told about this until much later. A lot of things felt tacked on later, or perhaps intentionally hidden the first time around, but it’s not done in an enjoyable way.
The book felt like it changed later on, showing a lot more than earlier, but by then, it felt too predictable. Perhaps this was because of how much was left out earlier on, but I was just glad for it to be wrapping up and returning to the present day. It just seemed like the last third of the book was a lot more interesting, so if the first two-thirds could have been equally interesting, I might have enjoyed reading it more. It wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t as good as I’d expected, at least from all I’d heard of it and the fact that multiple movie/mini-series have been made of it.