West Coast Waugh

The Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco) has a review of Acorn TV’s DVD version of the BBC adaptation of Decline and Fall. After a background of the novel’s writing and summary of the story, reviewer Brian Bromberger concludes with this:

Director Guillen Morales and screenwriter John Wood make it all work by recreating a farcical morality tale as a deadpan comedy that also functions as a caustic period piece. Much of the biting dialogue is straight out of Waugh’s book, but the virtuoso acting creates sympathy for these largely vacuous characters. Jack Whitehall, a former stand-up comedian, is perfect as the trusting Pennyfeather, who thinks well of everyone, even when they are doing bad things to him. Eva Longoria is unexpectedly effective: you’re not sure if she’s an airhead or a scheming villainess. Grimes’ Douglas Hodge steals the show, especially when he fakes his drowning on his dreaded wedding night and returns later as a white sex trader.

“Decline and Fall” is a laugh-out-loud absurdity that’s shocking and vicious, yet also genteel and touching. Balancing these tonal shifts has made Waugh tricky to transfer to the screen. But Waugh’s verbal dexterity is as relevant today as it was 90 years ago. Breezy and never cruel, “Decline and Fall” gives us hope that other Waugh classics will be reinterpreted. They could receive no better treatment than this crafty, scathing, oddly contemporary adaptation.

This week’s Spectator contains a review by Robert McCrum of two books about attitudes toward death. One of them is by Californian Caitlin Doughty, a bestselling mortician and co-founder of “The Order of the Good Death.” Her book is entitled From Here to Eternity in which, according to McCrum, she describes a

… journey that becomes a search for ‘the Holy Grail of corpse interaction’. She hits the road in quest of cultures untroubled by the western taboos surrounding mortality. … Her rambling tour of ‘good deaths’ ranges from the Japanese ritual of kotsuage, where relatives pick their loved ones’ bones from the crematorium with chopsticks, to the natitas of Bolivia, cigarette-smoking skulls that grant mourners’ wishes. Doughty herself favours something simpler for the happy corpse, ‘a hand-made shroud lined with peacock feathers and palm fronds’. Although she never refers to Evelyn Waugh, somewhere in eternity’s sunrise the author of The Loved One will be rubbing his hands with glee.


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