We possess nothing certainly except the past
Posted August 17, 2013on:
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Oh, this book is sensational! Sensational and sad. At first I was suspicious of its sadness. The sentimental, drunken Sebastian, suffocated by privilege and mired in wealth, was not someone I could feel sorry for. Charles Ryder, who becomes besotted with Sebastian and the vast estate of Brideshead Castle that Sebastian calls home, was a bit lacking in judgement, I felt. Those snooty English upper classes don’t deserve our pity, I wanted to tell him.
But the whole point of reading is to broaden one’s horizons, and mine were in need of broadening. For this book is a work of profound and sophisticated intelligence, engaging the full scope of the human imagination and the very best of all our feelings.
“My theme is memory,” Charles tells us, “that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of wartime. These memories, which are my life — for we possess nothing certainly except the past — were always with me.”
Memories can, indeed, be profound but it is seldom that a writer can bring them alive on the page as vividly and with such compelling credibility as Evelyn Waugh does in this deeply moving novel.
I worry that perhaps the novel is overshadowed by the television series and the films that have been made of it. A flickering image on the screen has more influence and stirs us more deeply than words that have to be read. But I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves literature because it is more subtle and more sophisticated than the films and because Waugh’s integrity and conscience resonate within it. It is a work of very great beauty by a writer who, when he writes of things that matter to him, cannot tell a lie. I was moved by it and it made me see Waugh very differently from the image I had of him after reading a few of his more satirical books.
This book will be in my mind on my journey back to China. I am already seeing my journey differently after reading it. I wonder if my parents and my home and the surroundings that were once so familiar to me will ever seem the same again.
I will certainly never look upon a stuck-up Englishman in quite the same way again. But I’m not yet ready to become a Roman Catholic. Sorry, Evelyn. Five stars, though. Perfect job!