St Aubyn’s early prose can be almost unbearably sharp, mordant and bitterly ironic. The fictional world of ossified Anglo-American wealth, privilege and clever cruelty depicted in his books feels like a kind of depraved Evelyn Waugh, taking the reader to dark places where Waugh and his generation of high-society novelists would never have ventured. Dark, certainly, though often very funny. […]
St Aubyn’s characters are no longer cultivating aristocratic detachment but seeking engagement with the world’s problems, albeit while remaining safely within their exclusive social circle.
These post-Melrose characters are just as privileged, attractive and damaged as their more decadent predecessors, and anyone can be made to look frivolous under St Aubyn’s witheringly satirical gaze. His worldview is not exactly heartless, but there is no place for sentiment. There is the possibility of redemption, even if it is almost impossible to attain in this life. […]
The great preoccupation of St Aubyn’s fiction is inheritance in all its aspects, and to that extent Double Blind is of a piece with the Melrose novels. This may not be the author’s best book, but this upscale social comedy-drama is entertaining as well as companionable.
The Guardian’s reviewer came to much the same conclusion:
…What defined Edward St Aubyn’s quintet of Patrick Melrose novels was their bitter comedy and sadistic wit, and though his two subsequent novels (one a satire on literary prizes, the other a reworking of King Lear) were attempts to alter the template, their tone remained much the same. Double Blind opens in unfamiliar territory, as an earnest, unworldly young botanist called Francis wanders through a country estate, Howorth, where he lives off-grid and is employed as part of a wilding project. Seemingly purged of irony, the tone is more DH Lawrence than Evelyn Waugh and almost rapturous in its pantheism (“He felt the life around him and the life inside him flowing into each other”). […]
–Daisy Waugh, Evelyn’s grand daughter and Auberon’s daughter, has just written and self published a new book called Guy Woake’s WordDiary. Here is a brief description from her website:
GUY WOAKE is a straight, white, cis male born into a racist, heteronormative, transphobic, patriarchal world. But all these things offend him and he’s trying his best to be better.
He’s 18 years old, a lonely fresher, studying Waste Water Recyclement at the Uni of Lakeside, Brighton. He misses his family. He misses his dog. He’s outraged by the state of the world, and he’s bored with recycling water.
“If you want to change stuff,” he tells himself, “you have to DO stuff.”
So he starts a blog, which he posts unflaggingly, to deafening silence … until the campus bullies catch sight of it, and for better and worse, Guy’s uneventful life is turned upside down.
She mentions this book in a recent interview on YouTube. See previous post. Thanks to Dave Lull for sending a link.
–The Daily Mail has a feature length story by Jessica Fellowes (who interviewed Daisy Waugh in the YouTube program mentioned above). Fellowes compares the origins the Bright Young People of the “Roaring Twenties” following the disaster of WWI and the Spanish Flu to what she foresees as what may be a similar generation in the 2020s following the recent upheavals of Brexit and the Covid 19 pandemic. Here’s her conclusion:
…This was the birth of Art Deco and social-climbing women who called themselves interior designers. Evelyn Waugh, who shone a brilliant satirical light on this era with his novels Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust, describes entire walls of mirrors being installed in the drawing rooms of great houses, but it wasn’t too much of a fantastical stretch. Take a look at Eltham Palace, fabulously rebuilt in 1933 by Stephen Courtauld and his wife using the best of the new Art Deco ideas.
★ ★ ★ ★
Nostalgia can be dangerous – a denial of present pain. But reflection is good and I would encourage us to take inspiration from the perspective of the past, to see how the resilience and daring, even the glorious decadence, of the people who lived before us led them to create a brighter future. One that is out there for us, too. Most of all, let’s remember how to have fun in the Roaring 20s Mark II.
—The Tablet has posted an article by Allan Mallinson about his experience as the new military obituarist of The Times newspaper. One of his first subjects was:
…Major-General Jeremy Phipps, cavalryman and SAS officer. His mother was Veronica Fraser, daughter of the 14th Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser, Jacobite Catholics. Phipps went to Ampleforth, where his housemaster, Father Walter Maxwell-Stuart, was secretary of the Ampleforth College Beagles. Phipps, he said, hadn’t learnt much history, but did cast “a very pretty dry fly”. I was minded of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. Indeed, Waugh would have made much of the material I gathered.
His article concludes with this:
…it’s time I re-read the Sword of Honour trilogy (it’s all of five years since last time): all life is there, as they say; the humour is “wicked”, and the Catholicism comforting. I also know that, with the centenary of Irish Independence approaching and with it the unresolved issue of Nationalism and the IRA, I really must steel myself to read Anna Burns’s [Booker prizewinning Milkman] and see what if anything I failed to grasp in the 1970s and 1980s about Ardoyne and the other “Green” areas. Only then perhaps will it be time for personal “Indemnity and Oblivion”.
–Finally, the New York Times in yesterday’s Book Review published a full-page illustrated memorial to the bowler hat in literature. Prominently mentioned are appearances in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, as a favorite apparel article of P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and, perhaps most memorably, as the deadly weapon of Oddjob in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger. It is a pity they missed the opportunity to include a photo of Evelyn Waugh wearing one.