I recently read, and very much enjoyed Sword of Honour, like this book, Sword of Honour is a satirical novel about World War Two.
The books that comprise the Sword of Honour trilogy were written in the 1950s and 1960s when Evelyn Waugh was able to put World War Two into some kind of perspective.Sword of Honour also happens to be one of Evelyn Waugh's masterpieces.
Put Out More Flags, an earlier war novel, opens in the autumn of 1939 and all takes place during the twelve months of the war.It was published in 1942.
I have read most of Evelyn Waugh's major works now, and, as usual, the quality of the writing here is a pleasure.The story follows the wartime activities of characters introduced in Waugh's earlier satirical novels Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies and Black Mischief.
The uncertainty and confusion of the so-called "phoney war" are brilliantly evoked, and - as is so often the case - the satire and humour are very black.Basil Seal, who readers may recall from Black Mischief, is the star of the show.His opportunism creating all manner of mischief for those he runs into, and his scam involving a troublesome family of evacuated children is brilliant and sums him up perfectly.
To suggest this book is full of humour would be misleading: one scene involving the troubled and tragic Cedric Lyne visiting his estranged wife Angela, with their son Nigel, for once impressed by him in his army uniform, is absolutely dripping with sadness and melancholy, and demonstrates Waugh's extraordinary skill.
Overall the book felt slightly uneven and a bit rushed.There is much to admire and enjoy, however I conclude this is one of Evelyn Waugh's less successful novels (measured against his exceptionally high standards).It's of most interest to Waugh completists (of whom I am definitely one) and should not be prioritised ahead of his key works: Brideshead Revisited, Sword of Honour, Decline and Fall, and A Handful of Dust.
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