I'm so glad I read this without knowing the story, having never seen the movie. It's a book I've been hearing about in a vague sort of way for a long time, and I think the ideas I had long ago of what it was about bear little resemblance to its actual plot. Through the entire book, up to the very end, the last few pages, I didn't know how it was going to turn out. I don't mean that there was anything particularly suspenseful about it, just that there were so many ways it could have gone, so many threads it could have followed. There is absolutely nothing formulaic about this book. I didn't always know who it was about or whether it would continue to be about that person, and somehow I didn't even have any expectations.
It's rare to find a book that is every moment new and unexpected, and somehow reading a book like this brings you closer to its creation. It brings you closer to the author and the choices he makes about where the book is going to go, because you just don't know and there are so many possibilities and he gets to choose. I can't quite explain that.
"'The doctors in Rome gave him less than a year. There is someone coming from London, I think, tomorrow, who will tell us more.'I don't know why I love that line so much, just, it encapsulates the enormous weariness of slow death so very perfectly. I had to put a post-it by it, so I would remember.
'What is it?'
'His heart; some long word at the heart. He is dying of a long word.'"
The book doesn't come round in a circle, quite. It does in a way, with the Prologue and Epilogue, but if I had been writing it I would have somehow brought it back around to the beginning of the real story, I would have made it circular and tied it down that way, which I think is possibly a sign that I'm not really a very original writer. And I don't think I understood why Brideshead the place gets the title until the very last page.
I can't say anything to the Catholicism in the book. I'm not Christian, have set foot in a church a grand total of once and it was for a book signing. I haven't got the habits of any religion, am if anything pagan but I don't have the focus drilled into me to keep up any particular religious practices, though sometimes I wish I did. All I can say for religion in Brideshead Revisited is that it is fascinating and believable in a human and instinctive kind of way, even for me. I don't know if it would be for an atheist.
You may, by the way, have noticed that I've used five different covers of the book in the course of my talking about it. I went through all the covers I could find pictures of and chose the ones I thought caught the mood best. And actually the mood changes so much that not all of the ones I've chosen work completely, but they're certainly better than some I've seen. Incidentally, none of these are my cover, which also works. It's a green cloth hardcover with a rather impressive building printed in gold on the front, and the title in gold up the spine, published by Little, Brown, and Company. It was a suitably grand edition to read the book in, with nice thick paper, which perhaps added to the experience.
You can see what I mean about my incoherency. All I have are impressions and and disconnected thoughts. Some of my favourite books I love for very analyzeable reasons, but Brideshead Revisited isn't like that, and it is also not a fond love (this will never be a comfort book though I would like to reread it some day), which is rather in line with the loves in this book. So there you have it.