This biography of Evelyn Waugh stitches together episodes of his life with anecdotes from his fiction, creating a tapestry as rich and varied as Waugh's finest works. Allowing biographical fact to play off an author's fictions is a dangerous affair, as too often the biographer leaps heedlessly to faulty assumptions about their interconnections. Wykes (English/Dartmouth), however, weaves the two themes together seamlessly, allowing Waugh's heady life to comment on his fiction in a meaningful dialectic. From the deep satire of Black Mischief to the rich spiritualism of Brideshead Revisited, Wykes delineates the vagaries of Waugh's personal life'strained relations with his father and brother, a first marriage annulled, numerous adulterous liaisons—with a critical eye, concentrating on how these moments crystallized into the characters and incidents of his darkest satires. Wykes gracefully manages to avoid the sycophancy that undermines so many biographies, the adolescent hero worship that asks the reader to join in the flinging of rose petals at the icon of the beloved; indeed, he doesn—t hesitate to show us Waugh at his least appealing: as a cultural snob, an indifferent father, and occasionally a mediocre writer. Though concentrating on the major works of Waugh's canon, Wykes also shares the many pieces of trade writing that Waugh undertook to pay his bills—the travel narratives and wine guides, the articles for magazines and the biographies of friends—which round out the portrayal of a man frantically writing away for passion and for profit. Not the definitive biography of Waugh nor the most in-depth interpretation of his writings, but an immensely readable and highly entertaining introduction to a man who, at his best and his worst, lived a life as interesting as his fiction.
Read full book review >