Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall

360673Title: Decline and Fall
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Year: 1928
Publisher: Chapman and Hall
Date Read: February 16, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 8.0 / 10

My Rating: 7.0 / 10

Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh’s (1903 – 1966, and male) first published novel, is a satirical portrayal of British society and education system in the 1920’s. Paul Pennyfeather, the novel’s main character, consistently finds himself in bad circumstances, none of which are entirely his fault. After a run-in with Oxford’s Bollinger Club, he is dismissed from the university and takes a job teaching a public school for young boys. He later marries one of his student’s mother, who causes him to take the fall for her after her human trafficking and prostitution.

Critics are typically under the impression that Waugh makes the claim that society is constantly falling from the standards it had in bygone eras. Decline and Fall follows this presumption to a certain extent. Commentary on society is made by several characters through dialogue with Pennyfeather, as his peers seem to constantly have an opinion on their lot as well as civilization in general. Sometimes, the criticism seems genuine and would reflect the author’s views, while on other occasions, the commentary is blatantly invalid and shows Waugh’s disfavor for individuals that think this way.

The dialogue between characters makes this novel. Waugh excellently crafts ideas for everyone to say that are crude, tasteful, or humorous all when they need to be. However, the passivity of Paul Pennyfeather is the only thing that truly kept me from enjoying Decline and Fall. Despite constantly having misfortune fall upon him that he could object to, he just allows every bad event to happen and accepts consequences without any thought. A lead character in this sort of story, I will admit, must demonstrate passivity to some extent so that the calamities that are being criticized can actually happen, but Pennyfeather has almost no for argument. Instead, he functions almost as the reader: just an observer.

Because this novel takes place in the British 1920’s and serves as commentary on the lifestyle and social strata at the time, I would highly recommend reading this immediately before or after reading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Both novels take place, entirely or mostly, in the 1920’s and early 1930’s and exemplify the expected standards of individuals at that time. Interestingly, Decline and Fall was contemporary for the time period, while The Remains of the Day was written decades later, but both novels provide similar accounts and are enjoyable in conjunction with one another.

“In fact, the whole of this book is really an account of the mysterious disappearance of Paul Pennyfeather, so that readers must not complain if the shadow which took his name does not amply fill the important part of hero which he was originally cast.”

“But Paul had very little appetite, for he was greatly pained at how little he was pained by the events of the afternoon.”

Buy or see this book on Amazon.

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This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It – David Wong

ImageTitle: This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It
Author: David Wong (Jason Pargin)
Year: 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Date Read: January 20, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 8.5

My Rating: 8.5

I was ecstatic when I saw that this book had finally been published. I downloaded it onto my Kindle app (one of the rare occasions that I don’t require a hard copy of a book) upon departing on a twelve hour road trip. Luckily, I rode in the passenger seat the entire way and finished the novel exactly when we arrived at our destination. Since I read it on my phone, the implication in the title wasn’t as relevant, but it’s still incredibly clever and grabs a potential reader’s attention.

This Book Is Full of Spiders is the sequel to the combination horror/comedy novel John Dies at the End by David Wong (1975 -), senior editor of Cracked.com. John Dies at the End is a book that I frequently recommend to my friends, both those that read for pleasure and those that don’t. It’s a book that is extremely entertaining, so much so that it recently became a movie. David Wong, in both books, engages the reader directly, and plays with the conventions that are typically seen in novels. The title of the first book in, according to an AMA on Reddit, a trilogy, John Dies at the End, toys with the reader’s perception by seemingly spoiling the ending with the title of the book (I won’t specify whether or not John actually does, indeed, die [he does {but not at the end <I’m sorry for the spoilers>}]). Wong frequently employs different tactics of addressing the reader or making the books seem like an impromptu retelling that is both interesting and fresh. He succeeds in writing, in a sense, a meta-novel – where the fact that the novel is a novel is acknowledged, allowing the author and narrator (both of which are David Wong) to do things that other novels can’t. Hopefully that statement makes any sense. Moving on.

If you watched the trailer that I hyperlinked, I would think that you are undoubtedly confused as to what the premise of John Dies at the End is. It’s probably to be expected. Both novels read almost like a dream which is what I particularly love about Wong’s writing style. The content throughout is entirely absurd and it seems impossible to suspend disbelief at any point. However, the ridiculous details of the plot of This Book Is Full of Spiders, along with Wong’s first novel, only seem so when viewed individually. When progressing through the novel, the reader doesn’t find the fact that a cluster of turkeys (or gaggle? I don’t know what the proper term for a group of turkeys is.) conjoin to form the figure of a human – think Power Rangers or Voltron – is out of place enough to lose the suspension of disbelief. The process is comparable to how over top the events in dreams are, but they rarely wake up the sleeper. Similarly, explaining This Book Is Full of Spiders to someone, or reading a quote from it, is like explaining a nightmare: only after you finish do you realize how strange everything actually is. When I told my friend about a humorous portion of the book while on our road trip, and there are many portions worth reading aloud to friends, the reaction was, not surprisingly, “What the Hell are you reading?”

The plot of the novel follows David and John after the events of John Dies at the End, and details the exploits of the two when their city of [Undisclosed] is infested with body-snatching life forms that resemble giant spiders. The dilemma spirals out of control quickly which is to be expected if you’ve read John Dies at the End before opening this book – against Wong’s suggestion not to, no less. The two rely on a mysterious drug called Soy Sauce that has several supernatural effects on the unfortunate duo, one of which being the ability to actually see the creatures that have invaded the city.

This Book Is Full of Spiders is a mixed bag when viewed as a sequel. It obviously uses the same characters and general thematic elements of the first book, but some of the primary features of the first novel that would be expected in the second are notably absent, or thrown in very, very sparingly. The primary offender is the Soy Sauce. John Dies at the End is essentially all about how the friends deal with the effects of the drug. Its sequel uses it only to advance the plot when there is no other way to do so. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Both David and John would know exactly how to handle the Sauce by the time this novel takes place, so it shouldn’t be as prominently featured. Also, the conflict in Full of Spiders is centered more around trust, appearance, and perception of humans instead of using the strictly Man versus Supernatural elements of the first book. Full of Spiders is also a much more linear novel instead of being episodic like the first. Again, this isn’t a problem unless the reader anticipated everything to be exactly the same between the novels. John Dies was written in an episodic manner, with some portions being available for free online years before the novel was fully compiled, edited, and published while Full of Spiders was written, presumably, from beginning to end instead of in independent segments.

This Book Is Full of Spiders is a pleasure to read. The combination of horror with comedy is masterfully achieved yet again by David Wong. Portions will have the reader laughing out loud (Both of Wong’s novels are two of the very few works that have managed to make me do so.), and others will have the reader held in suspense. The movie for John Dies at the End is also particularly entertaining, and it does the book justice despite having a huge challenge in how ridiculous the source material can be.

“The X-shaped cluster of turkeys rose as one body, as tall as a man. Two rows of turkeys forming legs, two forming arms. The turkey Voltron took tentative, lumbering steps toward John. He couldn’t help noticing that after a few steps, the two turkeys it was using as feet had been pulverized into a pink, feathery mess. John stood frozen for several seconds while he tried to decide if any of this was in fact happening. He decided that running was the best option either way.’

Buy or see this book on Amazon.

Or check out the first novel.

The movie is also available for rent online.

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