#259 Decline and Fall

I realised that it would only take two more books to push me up to 260 before the end of the year – not that this is an especially exciting milestone, but it is quite a nice round number, and that spurred me on to race ahead and reach my goal with 4 days to go.

Sadly I think this was the last Evelyn Waugh novel I had on the list – although I would at some point (which obviously will have to be in many many years) like to re read Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited – because I don’t know that I thoroughly appreciated them as much as I ought to have the first time around – particularly A Handful of Dust.

This may be slightly misinformed due to my poor memory of Brideshead Revisited, but I’d place Decline and Fall as a midpoint between that and Vile bodies – in that it was not quite as outrageously ridiculous as the latter, and did have more of a concrete (being, I suppose, quite an appropriate word) plot, like the former – that evaluation will have to do until I do get a chance to revisit the former. Decline and Fall follows the young school master Paul Pennyfeather, who falls into his profession out of necessity, having been dismissed from Oxford after falling victim to the drunken Bollinger Club, which causes him to be cut off from his (comparatively modest) allowance. Paul continues to find himself in equally odd (but, for the most part, more fortunate) situations as a master at a private boys’ school in Wales, eventually ending up with the Bollinger-ite who robbed him of his trousers (causing the dismissal at the start) as his best man. A quick Wikipedia search tells me that Waugh wrote in his original author’s note: ‘Please bear in mind throughout that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY’ and I would agree that it is. I also read that it’s meant to be a retelling of Candide – which made me slightly nervous (although my general impression of Candide was that it was also vaguely ridiculous) – but I never would have made this connection on my own – nor did I notice it as I was reading (I think I’m meaning this as a compliment). Decline and Fall is a really good read and it really is funny – and funny throughout – which can be hard to find in a book, which makes it a nice juxtaposition if you’ve just read something heavy or dull (although happily the books I read either side of it were neither).

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