JUDY KRAVIS

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Saturday, 29 August 2020

The chance encounters that give rise to reading: watching a film of Brideshead Revisited followed by a sneezy cold in unseasonal weather lead me to re-read the novel over two days, a 1954 Penguin shedding an aromatic buff-coloured dust as I turned the pages, the book's fragility echoing mine as I lay on the sofa half under a blanket in what we still, after more than twenty years, call the new room.

Several of my Evelyn Waugh books are very old. I liked him best in my twenties and thirties when his taut mannerism suited my need for high aesthetic mixed with social savagery. The religious preoccupation got on my nerves but I managed to overlook it. Now, after more than forty years in a country whose Catholicism is everywhere and nowhere, I am no less irritated but a little more interested in how the English version managed to be so consumed in its trappings and its rules, much as it would have been several hundred years ago.

Every satirist hides an emotional maelstrom. Evelyn Waugh is not a likeable writer, but occasionally you feel for him, as, near the end of the book, he cooks up an extended arctic image of a hut in the last blizzard of winter.
Quite silently a great weight forming against the timber; the bolt straining in its socket; minute by minute in the darkness outside the white heap sealing the door, until quite soon when the wind dropped and the sun came out on the ice slopes and the thaw set in a block would move, slide and tumble, high above, gather way, gather weight, till the whole hillside seemed to be falling, and the little lighted place would crash open and splinter and disappear, rolling with the avalanche into the ravine.
In an author's note economically placed on the verso page, beneath the publishing history, he absents himself and those he knows from his book. Which is a sure way of planting them firmly on his pages.
I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they.  E.W.

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