Brideshead Revisited is the tale of Charles Ryder, a middle-class atheist and budding artist, and his relationship with the rich, Catholic Flyte family who own the beautiful Brideshead. The first part of the book focuses on Charles' connection to Sebastian, until his attention moves in the second part to Sebastian's sister Julia.
I immediately fell in love with Brideshead Revisited in the beginning. I adored Sebastian and his love of life, and was saddened when he succumbed to despair and alcoholism. I also liked young Charles, and the excitement and fun he and Sebastian brought out in each other. Their early romps are quite hilarious, and the deterioration of their relationship - and of Sebastian himself - is heartbreaking. Sebastian's behaviour is incredibly frustrating at times, yet you can't help but sympathise with him, as he struggles with his sexuality and later his addiction in his staunchly Catholic, controlling family.
I liked Julia much less than Sebastian, which meant I didn't love the section focused on her. I found her hard to connect with, and I didn't understand the motivations for many of her actions. And I really couldn't stand the older Charles. The way he treats his wife and children is despicable. He repeatedly refers to the kids as "her children", showing zero interest in seeing or even hearing about them. More time is spent describing one meal he eats than his own family! But despite my frustration with both Charles and Julia, I did want them to have a happy ending. So, without spoiling too much, I was pretty exasperated by the turn of events (though I shouldn't have been surprised - the book starts with Charles alone, before he reminisces on his time with the Flytes).
But even though I was quite impatient with the last part of the book, I can see why this is a classic. While it is quite period-specific in many ways, the overarching themes are timeless and remain relevant today. There's still that struggle with growing up and trying to find yourself, the grappling with your beliefs, sexuality and mental illness, the desire to find love and friendship, the struggling to fit in with your family and especially the bittersweet sensation of nostalgia.
I have to say, my favourite aspect of Brideshead Revisited was the exquisite language. There are some stunningly beautiful sentences and passages. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Jeremy Irons, and it was dreeeeeeeeeeeeamy. His rich voice and melodic tone perfectly matched the lyrical prose. Quite a few times I had to rewind a section, just so I could listen to it again. It's the kind of language and narration that makes you happy sigh. Just gorgeous.
I've been torn about how to rate Brideshead Revisited, because while the language and narration was lovely, and I adored the first section, I really hated the last part. Unfortunately my dissatisfaction with that section knocks off a star. I'd still recommend everyone give it a go at least once - especially the audiobook version.
Spoilery Talking Points
- I couldn't figure out if Charles and Sebastian were actually in love or just loved each other as friends. They are definitely very close but it's never exactly clear how close they get (although maybe it is clear and I'm being dense).
- I was so disappointed that Charles didn't show a lot of interest in Sebastian towards the end of the book, especially considering how close they'd been. I expected there to be a reunion or at least some kind of resolution to their relationship, so I was sad that there was no real closure there.
- I did not really understand why Julia had to break up with Charles. If it was fine to marry Rex when he wasn't really a Catholic, why couldn't she also marry Charles?
Published: 2010, AudioGo
Get It: Audible