Saturday, December 03, 2011


Whenever anybody asks, and often when they don’t, I declare that my favourite book is Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh (1930). That said, I hadn’t actually read it since some time in the last millennium, and my battered orange-and-cream copy is currently hiding in a box somewhere in the south of England. So when I noticed it – an American edition from 1977 with a cover in that retro style that’s supposed to bring to mind the glamour of the inter-war years but really makes us think of the Gatsby movie with Redford and Farrow, and thus the 1970s – in a second-hand bookshop the other day, it just had to be mine.

I was dreading it not being as good a read as I’d remembered (although I might have explained that as a case of me being a better reader) but it’s held up remarkably well. Some of the scenes, such as Agatha’s appearance in the breakfast room of 10 Downing Street, remain laugh-out-loud funny, and plenty of Waugh’s sardonic little phrases still work their magic.

But one thing that I’d completely forgotten was Waugh’s own preface:
The action of the book is laid in the near future [which means that Cold Comfort Farm took even more tips from VB than I realised when Patroclus finally persuaded me to read it], when existing social tendencies have become more marked; I have postulated no mechanical or scientific advance, but in the interest of compactness and with no pretensions to prophecy, I have assumed a certain speeding up of legal procedure and daily journalism. In the latter case I have supposed a somewhat later hour for going to press and a greater expedition in distribution than is now generally the case.
Evelyn Waugh, it seems, invented Twitter.


Dave said...


Vicus Scurra said...

I have to confess to not having read it. Loved Scoop hated Brideshead. I will attempt to amend my oversight.

phil twitter i15minutes said...

Thanks for the blog and powerful suggestion to read the book. I've ordered it right away.

blackwatertown said...

Like Vicus, I will try to mend my ways and read it.
Recently found a copy of the edition of Lucky Jim that I like. Now I'm happy. The others weren't quite right.

Tim Footman said...


Brideshead is by far his most sincere book, Vicus, and thus his worst. VB is far closer to Scoop, so I suspect you would enjoy it.

Good on you, Phil.

I know the feeling, BWT. Although you can rarely go wrong with an old-school Penguin.