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4.2 out of 5 stars
Decline and Fall (Penguin Modern Classics)
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 18 September 2008
This is the tale of innocence, academia, love, ladies of less than perfect character and the behaviour/ misbehaviour of the class system. The funniest scene ever is the school sports day and the start of the running race. I will leave the rest for you to enjoy. If you have to read one book from Waugh then read this one. You will not want to put it down.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"Oh I shouldn't try to teach them anything yet"

Decline and Fall is simply one of the greatest novels I have ever read. It is laugh out loud funny whilst also moving the reader to care deeply for these fates of it's bumbling characters.

The story is easily epitomized by the title. Paul Pennyfather is a theological student at Oxford. Unfortunately despite being an inoffensive individual he is "sent down" from Oxford for an incident. The incident in question involves running across the quad sans pantaloon.

When he is cut from his fathers will he has no money and only one option- become a teacher.

The high jinks of his time as a teacher in Wales continue to constitute his fall until he falls prey to a sophisticated seductress and things go downhill from then on.

The brilliance of Waugh's wit shines throughout the novel as it cuttingly attacks and mocks the British Public School, the class structure of the early 20th Century and the scandals the British newspapers thrive upon.

Waugh's wit is augmented by a story that holds together and is fast paced. This keeps the jokes fresh and in abundance.

And the sum total of this narrative is that we learn nothing. Paul reflects that "there was not much to be gained by our knowing each other". Instead the novel is about what life means not "physiological implications of growth and organic change" instead the difference between people who are static and those who are dynamic. This difference Waugh supposes is that Paul was destined to be static and somehow got caught up in this glamorous world completely by chance.

Thus "Decline And Fall" stands as a warning about fame, particularly in this "heat" generation more than 70 years after it's publication. Waugh shows through Pennyfather that fame has a price and one that we may not be able to afford. Not all of us are cut out to be dynamic- that is hanging on to the wheel for dear life.

"Decline and Fall" stands the test of time because the strength of this underlying message and leaves one with a feeling of utter joy and a burning compulsion to turn the page and start the whole damn thing again.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2008
This is the first Evelyn Waugh novel I have read and I didn't really know what to expect. I have seen the Brideshead Revisited TV series and so I had an idea of the kind of subjects he dealt with but this book took me by surprise.

The thing that struck me straight away was how accessible it was. I often find that many writers of "literature" are a real chore to read, it can be like drowning in quicksand. But with Decline and Fall I hardly felt as though I was reading at all. It was as though the story was beaming straight into my brain.

In the first half of the book there doesn't seem to be much of a story but it all comes together towards the end. The style and humour reminded me a little of Wodehouse. I love Wodehouse but his stories don't have much of a message, they are mostly just stories. With Waugh there is something deeper, he uses the story to demonstrate his view of mankind. It's a sceptical view and I'm not sure whether I agree with it but I appreciate his style. It's effortless. This seems to me to be the mark of a genuinely great writer.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2007
I must have read this ten times, and I'm not done yet. Every time you find something new, something you missed the time before
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2008
This book is extremely funny and perhaps should not be read on public transport or in po-faced staff rooms. In particular, the scenes in the awful Welsh school are excellent, though perhaps not for the politically correct. The rewording of the famous hymn in a later chapter is also brilliant. A few of the characters appear in Waugh's later work; the name Cruttwell - Waugh's nemesis at Oxford, is first mnetioned here and reappears in subsequent pre-war novels.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2011
Decline and fall was Evelyn Waugh's first novel and covers the social mores of 1920s England. In that respect it is very like the novels of Nancy Mitford who was also concerned with describing how the upper and middle social classes coped with post-war Britain. Like Mitford, Waugh describes a series of eccentric characters with otherworldly attitudes that exist in a social setting that has long since departed. Money is a central part of their motivation as is their understanding of the difference between people who are gentlemen (or ladies) and the rest of society.

Into this world is parachuted the genteel Paul Pennyfeather, a divinity student at Oxford who gets caught up in the antics of the Bollinger club and is sent down for being caught in the quad without his trousers. As a result he loses his inheritance and is compelled to take a job as a teacher in a Welsh boarding school. Here he meets a variety of broken characters each with a pathetic but humorous back-story. Paul falls in love with one of the boy's parents and takes on a summer tutoring job with her son. What could have been a happy love affair turns to disaster as Paul gets involved in the white slave trade and is sentenced to prison. The plot piles absurdity on difficulty as Paul becomes more and more embroiled in a world he does not understand. Eventually, at the novel's end, Paul is found back in Oxford as a quiet divinity student and finds happiness.

Waugh has a far better grip on his characters and plotting than Mitford and manages to keep his show on the road in a way that she does not. At the same time he is genuinely funny, often in the small details rather than in a set piece joke, although these are also to be found. He seems to have a real affinity for his strange assortment of characters and they are almost recognizably real however absurd they appear. The nature of the plot means that several key characters are discarded along the way although Waugh does make an attempt to reunite Paul with several of them as his life's journey progresses, but in the end this is a road movie not an ensemble piece.

It's almost impossible not to enjoy this book, which although terribly dated (including some uncomfortable racist humour) and somewhat self-indulgent does have a feel good factor that makes it worth reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2011
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh is a perfect example of a British 'black comedy' - a piece handling extremely unpleasant subjects in an airy tone. I will not give a plot summary to avoid spoiling it, but 'Decline' has both an extremely good absurd story and plenty of unforgettable characters and locations - the Bollinger [Read Bullingdon, a paper-thin skit on the real club, right down to the tailcoats and ivory-and-blue ties] Club, the atrocious Welsh school, the Hon. Mrs Beste-Chetwynde and the 'Latin-American Entertainment Company', Mr Prendergast's 'Doubts', little Lord Tangent getting shot in the foot on the day of the School Sports, Mr Grimes and his 'landings in the soup'(a masterful example of a completely repellent and disgusting character who you cannot help liking) and so on and so forth.

In summary, both in style and in content, Eyelvn Waugh is a sort of 'anti-Wodehouse', whose cast use much the same language in far worse situations - a Bertie Wooster-esque piece on whote slavery for instance. Decline and Fall is a 1920s farce in which the bad men always land on their feet, and everyone is a bounder, but for some reason the reader leaves happy. A must-read, both interesting and amoral fun.
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on 26 May 2010
This is the first book I've read by Evelyn Waugh, after borrowing it from a friend at work and I wasn't disappointed. It's a thoroughly engaging read and to top it off, it's riotously funny.

I loved the public school humour in the first part of the book, and it reminded me of John Cleese in Clockwise from time to time. The characters are fantastic, although it is sometimes a little tricky to keep track of who everybody is from time to time, due to the fact they are known by their surnames throughout the book.

On the negative side, the book sometimes failed to hold my concentration towards the end, especially in part 3, when the story becomes a bit more sensible, but saying that, this book is laced with subtle humour and filled with little twists and turns that keep the reader entertained for the mostpart. I would highly recommend it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2007
Great fun and a remarkably quick read. I agree with other reviewers that some of the coincidences in the narrative are a little hard to stomach - at least until one realises that it's to do with the style of the book. Waugh's satire is so naturalistic that things like that stick out - but they're meant to; partly to themselves satirise the 'everybody knows everybody' attitude of the English upper classes at the time.

Interesting also - having read this several years after consuming Tom Sharpe's oeuvre, it's clear that Sharpe was heavily influenced by his fellow Lancing College alumnus.

All in all, an excellent introduction to Waugh's work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2013
Brittle,sharp-edged humour, like sipping Chateau Petrus through fine, chipped Crystal. Thoroughly enjoyable and memorable. A book not to be missed.
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