Most helpful positive review
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2010
Evelyn Waugh was a grumpy old so and so. In his lifetime he was very vocal about his dislike of all manner of things particularly those which he considered 'modern'. In this, his first novel, he takes every opportunity to mercilessly satirise such diverse subjects as prison reform, architecture, psychology, the behaviours of modern women and with a little less subtlety... The Welsh. In the hands of lesser authors some of this could be a little clumsy and offensive but Waugh's wit, literary dexterity, lightness of touch and ability to reflect the attitudes and mores of his time easily pull him through. There are some fantastically funny passages. The section detailing the inadequate clergyman Prendergast's musings on marriage for example, is comic genius as is the description of the school sport's day.
However, unlike Wodehouse, Waugh was always about more than knockabout comedy and he ably makes some serious points about the changes fast occurring in England between the wars. Perhaps the most powerful impression he conveys is that of the powerlessness of his main character Pennyfeather. All manner of malign influences come to bear on his life at one time or another and he seems incapable of doing anything about them. He drifts from the aristocratic buffoons at Oxford to the pseudo-scholarliness of the pubic school headmaster to the self-serving cruelty of a wealthy woman to the ludicrous pseudo-psychology of a prison warden. He is indeed a feather, blown helplessly from one powerful person to another.
A wonderful book and a great starting point for anyone wanting to get to know one of England's finest writers a little better.