7 Nov 2010
Review: "Decline and Fall" - A Satiric Tour de Force
Evelyn Waugh is one of my favourite authors, his literary fiction is of an exceptional standard, his language is gripping and beautiful and his storylines are unique. Waugh had a way of pointing out the ironies in society, satirising people and situations and shedding light on follies.
"Decline and Fall" had been on my TBR list for a good long while and this week I finally managed to read it. And I have to say that I am so glad I did. This is a work of art, a funny satire about one man's unintentional stumbling road through life. Paul Pennyfeather is studying theology at Oxford but is sent down from university in disgrace though this is by no means his own fault. Penniless Pennyfeather takes on a job as a teacher at Llanabba, a public school in Wales run by a staff of little competence and a great many oddities. Here he forms a friendship with one of the students, Peter Beste-Chetwynde, whose mother Margot Beste-Chetwynde (pronounced beast-cheating) he is hopelessly in love with.
Paul's happiness therefore seems secured when Margot ask her to tutor Peter in the vacation and he ends up engaged to her. However, Margot Beste-Chetwynde is not what she seams, she runs a brothel business and though Paul knows nothing about this he ends up getting arrested on the morning of their wedding. Then follows months in prison, something which becomes him well, however, he is saved by Margot's new fiancee and her lover and Paul ends up back at Oxford whereby the circle comes to a close.
This plot is so dramatic, so full of events but what is captivating is the fact that Paul has no hand in these events. He is simply carried by the waves of life through all these events. He takes no decisions himself, chooses nothing for himself. He is an anti-hero if there ever was one. A sad excuse for a man. But reading about him and all of the hopeless situations he has to go through is very entertaining.
The satire shows of the idiocies of mankind, it is a great comic masterpiece that will have you laughing not with Paul but at him and his many troubles. He is a character to you despair of but at the same time you cheer him on and Waugh's ability to make me feel compassion and understanding for this ridiculous little man is fascinating. If you like P.G. Wodehouse, this is definitely a book for you!