Over at Slate, Troy Patterson takes on Brideshead Revisited:

Evelyn Waugh is the greatest comic novelist of the last 100 years, and if you somehow dispute this fact, there is simply nothing to be done for you but a period of house arrest. One or another reputable online bookseller will deliver Waugh’s fiction to the doorway of your awful little warren, and you can begin your re-education at the beginning, with the debut novel Decline and Fall, wherein hero Paul Pennyfeather, cast out of Oxford for the indecent behavior of running around without any pants on, assumes a teaching job (for which he lacks all qualifications) at a school in Wales (a country disparaged in the rude, cruel, achingly hilarious terms that anticipate the author’s shabby treatment of Africa). You will go onward through the dark satire, brilliant viciousness, and unmatchable dialogue of Vile Bodies, Black Mischief, and, especially, A Handful of Dust, with its stunning climactic swerve from light social comedy to perfect desolation. If you haven’t been converted by the opening chapters of Scoop—about a writer, incompetent even as a nature columnist, covering a war for a paper called the Daily Beast—then there is no hope for you, and you should just stay home forever.

But do not, when attempting any course of reading aimed at appreciating Waugh’s wit, give undue attention to Brideshead Revisited, a misfit of a book, much loved, and often loved in the wrong way, as the vomitous stupidity of Miramax’s new film adaptation attests. There’s a comic novel in there, but it is not, as the common expression goes, struggling to get out. It’s lodged there quite contentedly; the book’s acid portraits of dull dons and rich oafs are enmeshed with its affectingly tender peeks at lost youth and also with its eagerly overwrought splendor and its sincerely bogus religiosity. This was the seventh novel Waugh published—the eighth he attempted—a grasp at grandeur written in a mere four months, during a leave from the British army in early 1944. “Waugh wrote Brideshead with great speed, unfamiliar excitement, and a deep conviction of its excellence,” Martin Amis once remarked. “Lasting schlock, the really good bad book, cannot be written otherwise.”

Heh, indeed. Read the whole thing. Patterson winds up his article by rightly (IMHO) praising John Mortimer’s old tee-vee adaptation of Brideshead. (And in case you’re interested, I have no plans whatsoever to see the new movie.)

I must say that I am in some sympathy with Patterson’s way of thinking about the Waugh canon. Indeed, were I forced to choose, I’d much rayther select A Handful of Dust or, especially, the Sword of Honour trilogy as my personal favorites.

But, oh dear, what would Mr. Wu say about being tagged as the producer of “lasting shlock”? Something very rude, I should expect.

Bumpers, Gentlemen, to Arts & Letters Daily.