Officers and Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh

This was my book club’s selection for last month.  I’d never read any Waugh so it couldn’t fail to be at least an educational experience.  (That wasn’t sarcasm.  I’m always looking to fill the gaps in my cultural knowledge).

Beautiful prose, shame about everything else.  Even allowing for it being a product of a less socially enlightened time, it’s full of unnecessary vitriol, particularly directed at people who don’t know their place.  (Book club conclusion, with which I concur: Waugh had an extraordinary amount of self loathing going on).

Beautiful prose aside, two things redeem it:  First, early in the second part of the book, a bunch of top brass become aware of the useless group of “commandos” the novel is about and essentially have a meeting putting their heads in their hands and figuring out how to do the least harm.  It was really funny.  The second is the portrayal of the British withdrawal from Crete, which felt like a very real description of the chaos of retreat, where nobody knows what is going on.

But otherwise, just no.  Unless you really want to know, in spades, how upper-middle-class men of the 1950s men felt about everyone that wasn’t them.  Which we all know, really, and we don’t need reminding.

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