Thursday, October 9, 2008
When Charles Ryder arrives at Brideshead after an absence of many years, he loses himself in reminiscences of the once grand home and residence of the intriguing Flyte family. Charles shares the story of his all-encompassing and complex relationship with the Flytes, which germinates with his college relationship with the eldest son, Sebastian, at Oxford. While sharing his opulent college days with Sebastian, the two become connoisseurs of fine food, good conversation, and especially in Sebastian's case, alcohol. Charles becomes unwittingly seduced by the luxurious lifestyle Sebastian leads, and although Sebastian tries to avoid the intrusion of his family into the friendship, Charles becomes enmeshed with them, growing increasingly entangled with their religious proclivities and emotional adversities. Eventually Charles moves past his friendship with Sebastian, who is on a course of self-destruction. Although he tries to leave Sebastian behind, his ties with the stifling family remain strong, and his ardor focuses on more accessible targets. As the glamor and artifice of the Flytes begins to fall away, Charles discovers his own moral awakenings, leaving him to reconcile the differences between himself and the Flytes as well as the similarities.
This book is a stunning piece of literature. From the rich language to the captivating story it tells, it is easy to understand why this book remains a classic today. Though the story is arguably about one young man's immersion in a very unique family, there exists, parallel to the plot, the subject of divine grace and the examination of Catholicism as a moral compass which may shape even those who are not of the faith. The book also deals with the nostalgia for the British nobility, the disillusionment at the passage of youth, and speaks specifically about the many forms of love that assail us as human beings throughout life. The remarkable thing about all of this is that it is not done in a heavy-handed and cardboard way. It is not pounded into you with antiquated and stuffy language or sentimental observations that render the story artificially affected. Instead, there is a constant pushing and pulling of ideas, and a honest portrayal of relationships, religion, and youth that is not afraid to show the entire truth, warts and all. Aside from liking this book for the story that it told, I found it was engaging and entertaining in other aspects. The prose was lyrical while still being a little snarky and standoffish, giving it an offbeat charm and a knowing voice. When I had finished reading and closed the book, I found that there was so much more to think about and explore within the world presented to me. I looked back at scenes that were poignant, and was able to see that besides the obvious emotional impact there was a great deal more hiding within the narrative. Later, I found concepts that hadn't initially occurred to me, and I mused about the authors intentions with the direction of the story, and if indeed there was a subtle agenda. The book had a wonderful mood about it as well. The atmosphere was one of somberness, but it was not overwhelmingly dark and depressive. Things seemed to have the perfect gravity, neither too comedic nor too dismal. This is not to say that this was an entirely dark book; there were some perfectly comedic and witty moments, but overall the tone of this book was more serious, lending it the ability to become profound. This may give the perception that this is a deep book. Yes and no. I would say that on one hand it is a very deep book, but it depends entirely on how you read it. If you are reading it for the pleasure of an interesting story, that is what you will get. If on the other hand you are reading it for a deeper meaning, that is there as well. What I find interesting is that these elements exist completely in harmony with each other, while also remaining separate entities.
I think the true measure of the success of this book is the fact that, although I have moved on to other books, I still find myself thinking about it. In quiet moments, I find myself plundering the depths of the story, eager to make more connections and relishing the moments and situations I found within the covers. The book had a powerful voice and message, and it was the ability of the author to show, not tell, his message that impressed and amazed me. The mechanics and eloquence of his ideas were equally impressive. Though the author's opinions may not be popular with every reader, and may even be contrary to those who are not particularly religious, the story and the execution are truly brilliant. This book was an exceptional and unexpected prize. Highly recommended.