‘Bright Young People’

Today’s New York Times coverage of Bright Young People by D.J. Taylor, adds to a growing number of enthusiastic reviews. Library ordering is light and so are reserves. This is a title to consider buying extra copies for your readers advisors.

NPR, in its “Books We Like” column, describes the book as being about the “Young, Idle And Terribly Jaded In The Jazz Age.”  Add “British” to that string of adjectives and you have to wonder why this would appeal to Americans facing what is nicely termed “the current economic downturn.” The NYT Book Review tries to answer the question by saying it “…may be the ideal escapist fantasy for these sober economic times.” And the Wall Street Journal, after dithering that we should care because many of the Bright Young People,

…came from the aristocracy and families prominent in government …[and] they were part of what decades later would come to be termed the “establishment.”

finally admits, “It is simply interesting to know what they were getting up to.”

Carolyn See, who is generally able to zero in on a book’s appeal, in her review in the Washington Post, comes up with as good a readers advisory line as any by saying it’s,

Jampacked and delicious, crammed with a cast of selfish, feckless, darling, talented, almost terminally eccentric, good-looking men and women.

Not all the reviews are completely positive, however. The NYT BR reviewer, while cleary captivated by the book, carps,

Taylor, a novelist and the respected biographer of Thackeray and Orwell, is so intent on his “morality play” that he nearly loses sight of why his characters were a source of fascinated delight and sniping in the first place….[but] His moralizing tone is lightened by the book’s beautiful design, laced with mordant period quotations and delicious satiric cartoons from newspapers and magazines.

The book offers an opportunity to recommend some older classics. Every review mentions Evelyn Waugh’s “hysterical” 1930 novel, Vile Bodies, which is based closely on actual Bright Young People (Waugh was one of them). The WSJ also mentions that,

V.S. Naipaul lived for some time at Wilsford, the estate of the effete Stephen Tennant, one of the last surviving bright young people, who is portrayed in Mr. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival.

Anthony Powell’s twelve volume, Dance to the Music of Time also portrays the period.



Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London’s Jazz Age

Taylor, D.J.
  • Hardcover: $27; 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; (January 6, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 0374116830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374116835



Vile Bodies Waugh, Evelyn 

  • Paperback: $14.99; 336 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (September 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 0316926116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316926119



The Enigma of Arrival, Naipaul, V.S. 

  • Paperback: $15.95; 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 12, 1988)
  • ISBN-10: 0394757602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394757605

The twelve volumes of Dance to the Music of Time have been collected into four. Below is the bibliograpic information on the first volume.


A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement, Powell, Anthony 

  • Paperback: $24; 732 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 31, 1995)
  • ISBN-10: 0226677141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226677149

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