The Loved One

by Evelyn Waugh

A book group choice – one suspects, partly because of its length (under 200 pages).

It was a very enjoyable read.  Full of dark humour, satire, brilliantly drawn characters and a tacky but quite satisfying plot.  OK, the love story was hardly convincing – but necessary to the plot.

It’s hard to know what to write, really.  Waugh shows the US at its overblown worst, in his depiction of ageing Hollywood writers who are no longer flavour of the month, a funeral business in which the dead are invariably referred to as ‘loved ones’, and a cynical, drunken agony column journalist who inadvertently adds another ‘loved one’ to the collection.

The denouement is dark and very comical: the rivals Dennis Barlow and Mr Joyboy contrive to dispose of Aimée’s body together.

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Radetzkymarsch

by Joseph Roth

Not sure how I came to download this book, but it is a classic of German twentieth-century literature that completely passed me by during my studies.  Perhaps because it is Austrian, and not technically German.  It deals with the decaying Austro-Hungarian empire, as told through the decline of a family through three generations.

The first of the von Trotta’s to appear in the book – indeed, the first Trotta entitled to put ‘von’ in front of his name – is the ‘Hero of Soferino’, ennobled by Kaiser Franz Josef I when he saves the Kaiser’s life.  His memory haunts both his son and his grandson.  The Hero of Solferino is shocked to find his heroic act misrepresented in a school history book, and after complaining to the authorities and ultimately to the Kaiser himself, decides to have nothing more to do with the military life.  His estate (presented to him by the Kaiser) is not passed on to his son, whom he also forbids to enter the military – thus obliging him to become a civil servant.

The last days of empire are shown through the two organs of army and civil service and their gradual loss of influence in the dispersed territories of an inherently disparate empire.  I came away from reading this novel with a much clearer view of how the empire probably worked – and how and why it ceased to work.  For the earlier generations, loyalty to Kaiser and country, upright character and hard work were essential.  The Hero’s grandson, on the other hand, though not dissolute in himself, is weak, and surrounded by men who do not share these values.  He does enter the army, but becomes increasingly alienated from it as he involves himself in one disgrace after another.

Eventually, the decline of the elderly Kaiser, the disintegration of the Empire and the degeneration of the von Trottas are all overtaken by the cataclysmic event that is the First World War.  And there is no going back.

 

The Norfolk Mystery

by Ian Sansom

A rather silly story, which promises to be the first of 44 (though only three have so far been published).  Sansom writes well, in the style of a 1930s detective fiction writer.  The story itself is a throwback to those times.  The characters are not likeable and not really believable.

Not particularly funny either.  I won’t bother reading any more by this author.

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

What can I say about Jane Austen’s work, that hasn’t been said a thousand times?  Whenever I treat myself to one of her novels, I know I will not be disappointed, no matter how many times I’ve read it before.  The lively dialogue just sucks you in.

The characters are just as believable as in Austen’s later work – the women rather more so than the men.  It is hard to read without picturing Alan Rickman as the quiet, steady (and rather dull) Colonel Brandon, Kate Winslet as an emotional Marianne or Emma Thompson as the steady Elinor. The 1995 film is successful in its own right, not least because it draws out the male characters to make them more human and real.

This book, which I hated when obliged to read it for A-level English Literature, is still not my favourite Austen novel, but I am always ready to come back to it.