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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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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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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 18 May 2000
This is a Waugh masterpiece. A deeply satirical novel, it should not be viewed as merely a chronicle of 1930s hedonism. It is, rather, an often extremely sad text as it chronicles the frustrations of inter-war Britain and Europe and the Old World's struggle to discover a new role. Ideally one should read Decline and Fall first, not simply for the integration of characters, but because Vile Bodies is in many respects the natural successor to Decline and Fall in its carrying through of the themes of the age. Do not be sucked into a superficial spin through the facade of the jazz age, this novel has, whilst being short and exhilharating, a darker subtext. This novel proves that there is so much more to Waugh than 'Brideshead'. I thoroughly recommend this novel, but suggest Decline and Fall is read first, and if anyone is curious enough compare the two to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night which share many common themes and make a fascinating comparison.
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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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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 June 2008
(4.5 stars) Focused on the "bright, young things" whose frantic pursuits of pleasure led to constant and ever more frivolous parties in the years leading up to World War II, Vile Bodies offers a satiric look at every aspect of upper class British society. From the hilarious opening chapter, in which an assortment of British travelers is crossing the Channel from France during especially rough weather, through innumerable parties, dances, weekend visits to country houses, automobile races, airplane trips, a movie set, and ultimately, "the biggest battlefield in the history of the world," Waugh skewers his characters and their values (or lack of values) and, in the process casts a jaundiced eye on society as a whole.

Adam Fenwick-Symes, an author living on the largesse of his friends, has been courting wealthy Nina Blount, and their blasé, back-and-forth relationship serves as the loose framework for the novel, which is more a collage of pitch-perfect scenes than it is an organized story. Mrs. Melrose Ape, an evangelist "who had no beard to speak of"; Walter Outrage, "last week's Prime Minister"; Lady Throbbing and her sister Mrs. Blackwater, whose portrait set a record for rock-bottom prices at Christie's; Miles Malpractice, Lady Circumference, and a host of other absurd characters populate the novel and keep the novel moving smartly, though not in a straight narrative line. Gradually, as war draws closer and the characters remain resolutely oblivious, the humor darkens, and when war is finally declared, the shock is all the greater because the Prime Minister himself seems not to have known about it.

Waugh's wit, seen in his sparkling and sometimes mordant dialogue, his inclusion of wicked gossip columns penned by Mr. Chatterbox, his imitations of high flown jargon, and his observations about "progress," as illustrated by the motorcar and airplane, keeps the reader constantly amused. At the same time, Waugh's preference for the traditional and the civilized over the new and the vulgar is obvious. When the final chapter, the ironically titled "Happy Ending," is reached, the scene takes place on a battlefield in France, where several familiar characters resolve some of the unfinished business of Waugh's satire and re-emphasize the ludicrous behavior of so many of Waugh's people.

Though the characters are superficial and their behavior even more so, as one would expect in a satire, Waugh manages to keep the reader's interest high through his keen observations of society in the years just prior to the war, and his rapid changes of focus and scene. The fact that the book was published in 1930, ten years before World War II actually took place, attests to Waugh's perceptive analysis of where the country was indeed headed. Mary Whipple
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on 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 17 July 2014
Some critics rate Evelyn Waugh among the top five English language writers of the 20th century. On the basis of Vile Bodies, and other books by EW, I wouldn't disagree with that, although such claims are always contentious. To be frank, much as I enjoyed the book, I thought the opening was rather rambling and didn't quite capture the interest. But once I'd got a handle on the main characters, the pace picked up with sharp lively dialogue that epitomised the wit and snobbery of the English upper middle classes of the early 1900s. Some of the writing is very modern, but other parts are curiously dated. From time to time Waugh throws in an authorial observation that is almost Victorian. But overall the writing flows pleasantly with an engaging storyline that focuses on bittersweet romance between Adam and Nina and the numerous outrageous scams that flow past them almost unnoticed.

The Penguin edition has a lot of notes on the text: which some might find helpful but which I found rather laboured and dull.
However they did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.
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on 23 January 2017
Vile Bodies is stuffed with farcical characters whose Jazz Age lives are a non-stop series of parties and adventures – endless cocktail parties, tiresome but amusing encounters with half-mad socialites, a motor car race etc. No one seems terribly bothered or affected by any piece of news or turn of events in this world, including the loss or acquisition of huge sums of money. There is much wit on display and this is undoubtedly a good caricature of the time. However, if you’ve read similar novels, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one as there is little plot and the characters, being caricatures, lack depth and fail to hold one’s interest. (Instead, I would recommend The Beautiful and Damned by Fitzgerald).
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on 14 June 2012
The first chapter didn't impel me to read on but, due to references to this book during a television programme, I continued. It was the term 'bright young things', the period of history, and the Buckinghamshire setting of Colonel Blount's home that intrigued me. Waugh introduced new terms to the English language, delved deeper into the social concerns of this sector of society and all on my doorstep!
The characters are typecast; a device that develops the reader's view of the society. There are humerous moments which shroud more serious events. But then a society that is light and frivolous would overlook the serious and there is comedy in that. Well worth a read.
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