Sometimes, just sometimes, I fall so hard for a book that I would even consider myself a bit strange. It happened with Theft. It happened with Hunger. And now it's happened again with Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited. I love this book so much that I want to sleep with it under my pillow for weeks. I love this book so much that I wish it was alive so that I could kiss it.
Subtitled, "The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder," the novel opens up in the midst of the Second World War, as the book's protagonist (he of the subtitle) pauses before his company departs the position they've held for the last three months. As he says, "Here love had died between me and the army," setting up the aesthetic nature of his character, Charles Ryder is presented as a thinking man's soldier, from the upper classes, a man who fights more so because of the excitement than perhaps the duty. The new position his company takes up is at Brideshead, a castle that belongs to the Flyte family, a group of people who made an impossible impact on Charles's life.
As the novel moves backwards to tell the story of how he first came to Brideshead, Charles recounts his own glory days at Oxford with one of the sons, Sebastian. Charles falls hard for Sebastian, for his strange ways (and odd teddy bear) and falls equally hard for his family, his sister Julia in particular. As the novel progresses and the friendship is tested again and again because of Sebastian's drinking, their lives grow in different directions. Then, ten years pass, Charles is married, Julia is married, and yet they seem to pick up naturally where they left off, and it's this love affair that defines the rest of their lives.
I don't even really have the words to describe how lovely the prose remains throughout. How well-crafted the story is, how ingenious Waugh is when it comes to creating voice and character. The novel doesn't drag (it was better than TV this week, hands down) and it makes you want to dive into the imaginary pages and wear the clothes, live the unhappy lives and experience the world as these people for just a moment. Kate sent me a note this morning about how I shouldn't watch the movie version that recently came out -- instead, she said, I HAVE to watch the miniseries (which I just ordered as a treat to myself from Amazon). For so many, the most important theme in the novel is faith, and I won't argue that it is, the Flyte's are Catholic and the struggle to balance the idea of religion in a world that finds it increasingly irrelevant remains consistent throughout the novel. But, of course, being the incurable romantic, it was the love story, both the idea of the glorious friendships of youth and the affairs that forever change your life, that really held my attention. Just glorious.
READING CHALLENGES: Of course this book's on the 1001 Books list so I'm counting it as one of the books for that challenge.
WHAT'S UP NEXT: I started reading Choke this morning on the subway. We'll see how that goes.