At the twist in the tunnel

Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags is a biting send-up of Britain’s upper class coming to terms with the reality of yet another world war. Waugh skewers the vanity and delusions of a certain caste of high society during the Phony War of late 1939 and early 1940. In the lull, while waiting for the attack that was sure to come, fear preyed on people’s minds and terrorized their dreams, and some took wholesale advantage of the situation, including Waugh to comedic effect.

Though a light book, and in my estimation not his best, there is plenty of vintage Waugh here to enjoy: cruel and selfish characters who use charm to slip blithely through the world, whether at war or not. Then there is Waugh’s sharp wit. In Scoop he wrote three of the funniest paragraphs in modern English literature about a newspaper column called “Lush Places.” Here, he’s worth reading if only for such wonderful bits as the following, where a pompous booby reflects on his wife: “Maternity and the tranquil splendour of Malfrey had wrought changes in her; it was rarely, now, that the wild little animal in her came above ground; but it was there, in its earth, and from time to time he was aware of it peeping out, after long absences; a pair of glowing eyes at the twist in the tunnel watching him as an enemy.”

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