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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 November 2012
Does the classic which brought him fame and fortune show why Evelyn Waugh was described in his lifetime as the most important British writer of his day? Certainly, his style is very articulate and witty, although at times a little too silly and dated for modern tastes. This is a darker version of P.G. Wodehouse, with a failure driven to sudden suicide, and a young woman who implies sex by talking about the pain it gives her.

Readers will differ as to which passages they find the funniest. For me, apart from those I cannot give away, it was the exaggerated but telling description of the motor race to which the "hero" Adam and his friends are invited. "The real cars that become masters of men, those creations of metal who exist only for their own propulsion through space, for which the drivers clinging precariously at the steering wheel are as important as his stenographer to a stock-broker."

In the loosely structured plot which seems to be a staccato succession of incidents not necessarily "going anywhere" we are introduced to the "bright young things" of the 1920s. They are hedonistic, selfish, lacking in direction, engaged in a haze of party-going - "Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties...parties where one had to dress as somebody else.....tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and smoked crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London, and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris - all that succession and repetition of massed humanity.. Those vile bodies."

But beneath all the frivolity there is the sad undercurrent that these young people reject the values of the older generation who sent their children to die in the First World War, but have nothing in which to believe instead. Since this book was published in 1929, Waugh is quite prescient in foreseeing the next world war which is the "Bright young things'" fate. As the Jesuit Father Rothschild observes - the author never having met a Jesuit at the time - "...there is a radical instability in our world order, and soon we shall all be walking into the jaws of destruction again, protesting our pacific intentions."

Waugh was quite critical of the book, one cannot know how sincerely. The more sombre nature of the second half and Adam's brittle relationship with Nina may reflect the fact that Waugh's first wife, "She-Evelyn", left him for a so-called friend whilst he was writing "Vile Bodies", a blow from which he found it hard to recover. It is interesting to speculate just how autobiographical some of his books were, with many of the characters modelled on people he knew.

What troubles me a little about "Vile Bodies" is not being sure just how ironical Waugh intended to be. He was himself a heavy drinker, a socialite and a snob who looked down on "the masses". Perhaps he was a creature of his times, but one cannot help feeling that he was a clever man who, as in this case, frittered his talent on fairly lightweight themes.
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on 25 February 2002
Almost inconsiderate of the readers emotions, Waugh wraps us up in the lives of shallow but elegant people, only to destroy them with understated deadliness. The book is a parody as well as an encomium to an era when 'vile bodies' could exist with style. Read and enjoy, but do not get too attached.
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on 26 April 2013
Enjoyable but not his best. I much preferred handful of dust. As usual beautifully written and marvellously observed but the plot let it down a touch.
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on 24 August 2007
The best part of this book is the end. Read the last four pages and you get a real sense of (high) society breaking down as war breaks out. The rest of the book is not so much badly written as badly dated; satire does not date well, look at old copies of Punch magazine or the works of PG Wodehouse and it is obvious that they should have been pulped once 1950 was over. "Vile Bodies" is a particularly irritating example of the genre: ridiculously over the top character names, bon mots aplenty (mostly pretty poor puns) and any sembelence of a plot lost in a haze of SATIRE. Imagine listening to Noel Coward records for four hours straight and you have an idea of what reading this boook feels like.
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on 5 November 2015
Hated it.
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VINE VOICEon 26 May 2007
I chose this book for my reading group as I am a great fan of Waugh (this is the sixth book of his that I have read). What a mistake! I should have listened to my son (another keen fan) who warned me that this is one of his most difficult and, it has to be said, boring books, and that it would not endear Waugh to new readers. He was spot on. I read it with mounting disappointment - and found it an excellent cure for insomnia (on four consecutive nights I didn't get further than the same page). However I dutifully read it to the end and can't say I laughed once. Worse, though, is that the other members in my book group also found it deadly dull and most of them couldn't get through it, short though it is.

If you are new to Waugh don't start here! Read Decline and Fall first (Waugh's first novel) or Scoop which is really funny, or The Loved One, a delicious satire on the American funeral industry (and the first Waugh book I read, that made me want to read more).

This book to me is an interesting period piece, and does say something about the inter-war era, and even has parallels with today's cult of celebrity, but it is rather unfunny, and lacks the style and wit of Waugh's other works.

If you want to know what it's about without suffering the boredom of reading it, get the DVD of Stephen Fry's film version, "Bright Young Things", which manages to inject interest and fun into the story. I shall be arranging a showing of that to my fellow book club members so that they won't feel the book was a wasted exercise. Incidentally this must be one of the few instances where the film is actually better than the book!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 October 2014
This novel is set in the 1920s in Mayfair and is about dreadful young people. I noticed the following words and phrases recurring; How too, too shaming, bogus, divine, Don’t you think? Or don’t you? (this is quite an insecure way of speaking I thought, of asking the listener to agree). I think I prefer these words to today’s lol and yolo but every generation has a vocabulary to differentiate it from the previous one.
There are just a couple of mentions of sex and it gets alluded to with three dots sometimes... Also a lady wears trousers, which is shocking. Money is frittered away. At the end of the book most characters have met a sticky end and war breaks out. Throughout the book some older characters moan about young people nowadays and some think that the freedoms young people now have are good. It had the French phrase “Si jeunesse savait, si viellesse pouvait” which means that nothing ever occurs at the proper time in life. The characters have good names, the Prime Minister is called Mr Outrage. Also there is a newspaper is called the Excess, which is probably a parody of the Daily Express. I’m sure I missed a lot of the symbolism and key issues by reading it eighty-four years after it was published. I enjoyed it much more than those novels with bonnets in.
I'm going to read Decline And Fall next which I should probably have read first, but as I've learnt “Si jeunesse savait, si viellesse pouvait” :)
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on 13 November 2001
There are four types of people in the world. Those who have never heard of Evelyn Waugh, those who think he's a woman and those who know him only as the author of Brideshead Revisted. The very rare fourth type knows Evelyn Waugh is one of the most brilliant satirists of all time and that in fact, Vile Bodies is his best effort. The second of 40 novels, Vile Bodies is his most characteristic work, brilliantly witty, stuffed with farcically brilliant characters who drink cocktails, go to costume parties, ride in motor cars and do little else. It was this novel that spawned the expression "bright young things" and is an excellent starting point for a love affair with Waugh. If you try it and love it, read Waugh's Put Out More Flags next.
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on 8 June 2013
It was so hard to know who anyone was, or who was saying what that it's almost impossible to follow a story - if indeed there is one. This was chosen by my book group and it's the only one that got a universal thumbs down. Only one out of 8 of us finished it.
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on 5 October 2014
This is a book by Evelyn Waugh, one of the earliest Riot Grrrlz whose works consist of the kind of sarcastic comments that would be common in writers like Dorothy Parker through to Julie Burchill and Sarah Silverman in the modern age, she uses her talents to describe the culture and lack of aspirations of the Bright Young Things that she saw in the society of the day, her descriptions of the gossip columnists who described themselves the society that the normal people of the time speaks of a knowledge of both the bright Young Things and Journalism that her other books like Scoop would expand upon leading to her current position as one of the pre-eminent cultural and humorous writers of the 20th century.
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