2. Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh (1930)

Hard to choose between Vile Bodies and its immediate predecessor Decline and Fall, but I’ve gone for this because it’s the novel I would most like to have written myself. (I know, I know.) I love everything Evelyn Waugh wrote up to and including The Loved One; after that I think it goes a bit awry, and I’ve never liked the Sword of Honour trilogy. As he got older, Waugh seemed to distance himself from his comic-satiric genius, as if he thought it was unfitting to a man of his status. But the comedies are the works that have endured, and none is better than Vile Bodies. It’s bitter and sharp, sometimes vicious, sometimes sad, and at times highly literary. The love story of Adam and Nina is very moving in its dry-as-martini way, and the grotesque supporting cast (Agatha Runcible, Mrs Ape, Miles Malpractice etc) is straight out of Restoration comedy. Above all I love the strong drive of the narrative – the story starts with a disaster from which everything unfolds like the petals of a particularly noisome flower. And oh God what a great title.

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