Vile Bodies

Vile Bodies

Our book group choice for May 2017 is Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. Adam Fenwick-Symes is a man of the world: a novelist, recently returned from Paris, and one of the “bright young people.”

Yet he is passive, an antihero like so many other Waugh protagonists. Things simply happen to him as he drifts through the novel.

When the young novelist disembarks following a perfectly awful Channel crossing, an overzealous British customs officer leafs through the just-completed manuscript of his autobiography, determines it is too lubricious for native consumption, and seizes it on the spot. His action causes Adam to breach his contract with his publisher. Adam is then forced to sign a new one that commits him to virtual bondage. Because he has no money, he is unable to marry his fiancé, Nina Blount. The remainder of the novel is highly episodic; what plot movement there is emanates from two rather mild conflicts: establishment disapproval of the younger generation and Adam’s desultory quest for the means to marry Nina.

Discussion Questions Vile Bodies

  1. The book is a sort of pastiche, a collection of scenes. Why is it presented in this way and how did it affect your attitudes toward the novel?
  2. There are two main plot elements: Adam’s quest to marry Nina and the establishment disapproval of the younger generation. Were you able to follow along?
  3. What did you make of Adam?
  4. There are three deaths in the book – Flossie, Mr Chatterbox and Agatha – what is Waugh trying to say with each?
  5. How does Waugh use religion in the book? What is he saying about it as an institution?
  6. What role does the drunken Major play?
  7. What did you make of the final scene?
  8. Do you feel there’s a historical parallel from the Bright Young People of Waugh’s book and the early 21st century Millennial generation?
  9. Many of the characters are described as either outright drunk or drinking. Why?
  10. Which was your favourite character?
  11. Waugh enjoys creating very colourful character names – eg. Mr. Outrage as the Prime Minister and the Daily Excess – what did you make of this?
  12. To whom would you recommend this book?

Individual Comments

DKB’s Rating: This was a disappointing read considering the sheer quality of Waugh’s other offerings. Not quite clever enough as a subversive satire and too banal as a period piece, it’s lost in a muddle without any likeable characters. Waugh is great but give this one a miss.

DKB's Rating ★★☆☆☆ 

Sue's Rating ★★★★☆ 

Jo's Rating ★★☆☆☆ 

EmmaT's Rating ★½☆☆☆ 

Anthony's Rating ★★☆☆☆ 

Baljit's Rating ★★☆☆☆ 

Catherine's Rating ★★★★☆ 

Willow's Rating ★★☆☆☆