Friday, August 22, 2008

Worth a Revisit

My book club just met in the cozy, dark bar of the Smokehouse (haunt of Hollywood types from Hope to Clooney) to discuss BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.

I haven’t seen the movie, and as I liked the novel, I’m not likely to see the movie.

Heard a personal review of the movie from Barbara’s blog (scroll down to “Brideshead Eviscerated”); she didn’t like it. Accused it of being anti-Catholic, and thus a bad adaptation – as the novel, in her opinion, is pro-Catholic.

As I was reading, with Barbara’s critique in my head, I started to wonder if maybe she was wrong about the book.

I mean, here are all these Christian characters, and they are so messed up! Maybe Evelyn Waugh wasn’t as fond of the church as Barbara felt.

And of course, upon finishing, I realized that it is the very fact that these Christians are so messed up that makes this such a strong Catholic novel.

Because it is a novel about, in Waugh’s own words: “…the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.”

The movie, according to the testimony of the creators, is a tragedy about how the Church causes so much unhappiness in the lives and loves of the characters.

Ironic, because (and this is a spoiler for you) – in the book, point by point, it isn't the Church that causes the unhappiness.

Julia's painful marriage is outside of the Church (changed to being with a Catholic in the film).

And it isn’t the Church at all that causes Charles and Julia to separate in the final "tragic" moments. The filmmakers have to go out of their way to twist Waugh's writing in order to make it anti-Church.

You see, Julia has already left the Church years before her breakup; rather it is Julia’s love for G-d that causes the woman and the book's protagonist to separate.

Julia knows she has to choose between lovers, and the Almighty is really her only choice. Not because of rules, or disapproving looks, or guilt.

But because of love – that harder love that sticks even when we don’t want it.

As Julia herself says: “I’ve always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy.”

The entire novel, in fact, is about grace chasing down those that need it most.

The brilliance of the writing is how this sneaks up on the reader – a novel about prodigals at the last moment is revealed to have been all along a novel about a Father running towards his child.

Shouldn’t be a surprise really. Waugh told us this was coming – the unexpected – in a little throw-away about a quarter of the way through the book.

“But of course,” she said, “it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It’s all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side, of religion.”

Here’s to the fun and whip-smart book about animals doing the oddest things.

Just my thoughts,


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