Adventures in Bookland: Labels by Evelyn Waugh
‘What I did in the holidays’ is, deservedly, a cliche for a tired English-writing class task but when the pen writing the account is that of Evelyn Waugh, it becomes something different even when the actual underlying structure remains the same. This really is the account of what Evelyn did in his holiday, in 1930 if I remember right, when he took ship from Portsmouth and fetched up in the Mediterranean. It’s the tale of people met, restaurants eaten in (a particular concern of Waugh’s) and the minutiae of travelling a well-worn road. Unlike his later travel books, Waugh was not bringing anywhere unknown to light but simply commenting on the familiar. He doesn’t even really shed any particularly new light on the familiar. But it’s the writing: the sheer, brilliant, crystalline precision of the writing that makes it all worthwhile. So while the skeleton is the same tired old English-writing task, it’s made somehow translucent, effervescent and slightly cruelly alive by Waugh’s prose. My goodness, the man could write.