Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

A coworker of mine who’s more “literati” than I am (despite somehow not reading many books) heard me talk about how I was surprised to enjoy a series like Downton Abbey, given that it’s not typically in my wheelhouse. Since I tend to explore outside my wheelhouse quite frequently where good books are concerned, my coworker suggested this one.

On the surface, Brideshead Revisited has quite a bit in common with Downton Abbey. It deals with the decline of the British noble class in the wake of the first world war and the romantic nostalgia it seems to invoke. But that’s really where the comparison stops. This book concentrates more on relationships and religion, and how these concepts factor into the shaping of personal identity. I can’t really say more without spoilers, but suffice to say, if there was an illusion to the social norm of Britain at this time, this story is all about cracking the facade in the pursuit of personal truth.

My understanding is that the book is semi-autobiographical, which makes sense given the details of personalities and situations. Most of what’s here would be highly controversial in the time period it depicts and in the decades since it was written. But I think the ever-changing landscape of what’s considered socially acceptable or typical, combined with the fairy tale aspects of life at a British country manor, might offer something new to this generation’s readers. As cynical as the story plays at times, there is a singular wit about it as well that makes it accessible.

The characters really make this story what it is, brought to life by Waugh’s incredible writing style. Regardless of how much may be drawn from real life, the author made sure to make all of these characters his own, and the result is astounding.

As narrator, Jeremy Irons is a great choice. Having played the lead in the 1981 mini-series adaptation, that’s an considerable personal insight into what this story offers. 30+ years of such nostalgia added to a story that plays on that very theme? Perfect. Irons is already impervious to the idea of a bad performance. With this book, his contribution is most definitely the touch of the master’s hand.

5 stars

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