Friday, July 25, 2008


The Book: Evelyn Waugh, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. Dell Laurel Edition paperback reprint (fifth printing), 1966. Good condition; cover is fragile but intact and bright, pages are age-browned, corners of front and back cover are creased and rubbed. Owner's signature on front flyleaf.
First read: 1983
Owned since: 1983

It will be some time before we get the new film version of Brideshead Revisited in my part of Maine, if it comes at all; it's a disadvantage of living where I do.

That's okay, though, because the movie can't possibly be as good as the BBC miniseries, which did justice to the book but did not exceed it in quality.

Friends of mine in college had this exchange posted on their bathroom wall, as part of a collage:
"Ought we to be drunk every night?" Sebastian asked one morning.

"Yes, I think so."

"I think so too."

We thought that was wildly romantic, and it is -- BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is just about the most romantic novel I know, a story of people torn between the desires of their hearts and what they believe to be the duties of their souls. I've seen it described as satire, and some of it undoubtedly is -- Lord Marchmain, for example, is a great comic figure, and the Marchmain marriage is poisonously funny -- but the yearning for redemption and meaning at the center of this book is real, and so are the sorrow and the pity and the anger.

Charles Ryder, son of a miserly eccentric, is taken into the bosom of the Marchmain family -- first by their ne'er-do-well second son, Sebastian, and later by their beautiful older daughter, Julia. Charles falls in love with Sebastian, with Julia, but most of all with the Marchmains themselves, relics of the English Catholic aristocracy. They take their Catholicism seriously, as exiles must; it's new to Charles, who doesn't understand how deep it goes until it's too late.

It is interesting to compare this book with THE GREAT GATSBY, as much of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is set in the same time period, among the same social group (on opposite sides of the ocean). Both books, I think, are about the unsustainable nature of carelessness; sooner or later, you have to care.

What I Read This Week

Lawrence Block, TANNER'S TIGER. Insomniac soldier-of-fortune Evan Tanner takes his adopted daughter Minna to the Montreal Expo and winds up an international fugitive and searching for Minna, who's been kidnapped. The plot's a little fuzzy, but Tanner's always fun, and the description of the Expo is great.

Lawrence Block, TANNER'S VIRGIN. Tanner goes to Afghanistan to find a young woman who's been sold into prostitution. It's very edgy material, and must have been even edgier when the book was originally published; Block walks a fine line, and mostly succeeds.

Lawrence Block, TANNER ON ICE. Twenty-five years after his last adventure, Tanner wakes up from a cryogenic coma to find himself in late-1990s New Jersey. It's a new world, but the same old Tanner, as he goes off to start a revolution in Burma. Good to have the old boy back.

Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL. More reading for Gaslight. A dark, dark comedy based on the Weekly World News headline. The discovery of a feral creature in a West Virginia cave sends a small town into chaos. Bigotry, passion, violence -- what more could you want from an evening's entertainment? It's not the right show for us, but I would love to see it performed.

Don Winslow, THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE. Don Winslow is one of the best crime writers working, and I'm embarrassed that I didn't read this book when it first came out. Frank Machianno runs a bait shop, a seafood supplier, a linen company, and several rental properties. It's a busy life, but a legitimate one -- so why is someone trying to kill him? It probably has something to do with Frank's 30 years as a hitman for the Mob ... and Frank needs to figure out exactly who's trying to kill him now, and why.

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