Friday, January 19, 2007

Book Review: "Crome Yellow"

Aldous Huxley's first novel, Crome Yellow, came as quite a pleasant surprise to me, having only read his Brave New World previously (and not enjoying it overmuch). In this novel (first published in 1921), Huxley offers a brilliant and witty portrayal of the English social scene after World War I in the form of a biting, yet light, satire (it reminded me quite a lot of Evelyn Waugh).

There is not a great deal of "plot" in this short novel, much of which is given over to conversation between Priscilla and Henry Wimbush (the occupants of Crome, an old estate) and their eclectic collection of guests: Denis, the erstwhile poet; Gombauld, the rakish painter; Mr. Barbecue-Smith, a "self-help writer" of prodigious output (he writes 1,500 words per hour by channeling his subconscious); and ladies Jenny, Mary, and Anne (the targets of various masculine attempts at seduction, most of which manage to go spectacularly awry). The conversations center on some of the great issues of modern times, however: human contact, study, emotion, and the vagaries of love.

Henry Wimbush's composition of a massive history of the Crome estate provides some excellent vignettes when he shares selections from those learned volumes with the assembled cast. These interjections are typically hilarious (one example concerns a predecessor's fixation with privy location), and provide an elegant counterpoint to the goings-on.

If you haven't read Huxley beyond Brave New World, I highly recommend starting with Crome Yellow. It may have lost a bit of its edge in its eighty-some years of existence, but it's still sharp enough to cut.