Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vintage Novels {Vile Bodies}

Evelyn Waugh's second (and funniest) novel is a glorious thinly veiled satire about Waugh's friends, the Bright Young Things set of Mayfair in the interwar period. Not only is it the finest record about their whirlwind lifestyle of parties, sex, drugs, fast cars, jazz and yet more parties, but it also makes fun of everything in the Roaring Twenties London society, from gossip columns to politics, religion, money, film making, hotels and drunken majors. It's a highly readable laugh out loud book of very witty lines, marvellous names and a slightly disjointed story line. The party scenes make me ache to be there and the clothing descriptions are just heaven (bottle-green bowler hats and cross-dressing anyone?). Most of the novel is told through the conversations which the two main characters have together over the telephone, which today remains a record as to about people talked and used slang in the Twenties and Thirties.
But it's also a sad novel, particularly towards the end as the effect of their fast-paced party lifestyle affects the young characters. Waugh also records the opinions of the older generation about the Mayfair generation, who grew up in the shadow of the war without having served in it and will be approaching 40 when the next war breaks out.

The plot of Vile Bodies revolves around struggling novelist Adam (who had his manuscript seized at Customs because it's title looked a bit naughty) and his efforts to earn enough money in order to marry his girlfriend Nina. Poor Adam tries everything, from writing the gossip column Mr. Chatterbox about what his friends get up to at parties, to betting on a horse and finally to asking Nina's doddering old father, The Colonel, for some money and then realizes that the Colonel signs his cheques as Charlie Chaplin. The relationship between Adam and Nina plays out like a romantic comedy, but it also shows that the conventions of the romantic comedy don't work in real life, something that Nina understands but Adam does not. The novel ends with Adam serving in the Second World War, written nine years before the invasion of Poland.

The novel was adapted by Stephen Fry into his visually stunning film Bright Young Things in 2003. As far as adaptations go, this is one of the best. Although he cut out a few parts from the novel, he maintain the novel's mood and biting wit. Stephen Fry did, however, change the ending by tacking a coda onto the end of it and by doing so he resolved the relationship between Adam and Nina, but I do like this added ending. And the costumes and sets are just drool-worthy. Plus you get to play the game "spot the now famous but then unknown British actors". And Peter O'Toole is hilarious in his cameo as the Colonel. But I do think that one should read the novel first before watching the film if you want the plot to make sense.
Here's the trailer:

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