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A Master at work, but not at his best
on 6 February 2001
Waugh is one of the great writers of the 20th century, as much a defining chronicler of his environment as Joyce or Steinbeck or Woolf. By definition, the editor has to include some second-rate stuff - some of the student material is decidedly naff - but when he's good he's marvellous - Tatical Exercise is worthy of Hitchcock. But his most poignant story is his last, Basil Seal Rides Again. It derives its impact from the rakes, femmes fatales and bright young things of Waugh's early books degenerating into bumptious old age. To get the joke, you have to have read the novels, and that is where EW's genius is best discovered. This collection is a fascinating trove for the completist and diehard, but not the best introduction - read Decline & Fall or Vile Bodies.