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Review: Bright Young People, by DJ Taylor

Pages: 361 (with Appendices and Index)

Original date of publication: 2007

My edition: 2010 (FSG)

Why I decided to read: infernal Amazon rec

How I acquired my copy: Amazon third-party seller, March 2010

Bright Young People is the story of a particular group of young people who lived in London in the 1920s and ‘30s. Born at around the turn of the century, they were well connected and, for the most part, wealthy. They were known for the outrageous lifestyles they led, holding themed parties until dawn and performing tricks upon each other. The Bright Young People relied largely on the press to publicize their activities, and they included, among others, Nancy and Diana Mitford, Bryan Guinness, Evelyn Waugh, Brian Howard, Brenda Dean Paul, Cecil Beaton, and Elizabeth Ponsonby.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters, with little interludes focusing on specific people or things (on is on all the books Brian Howard never wrote). The book is a bit disorganized; the chapters don’t seem to be arranged in any others, and the interludes, rather than being enlightening, hinder the flow of the book. The book is also a little unfocused; al large part of it is devoted to Elizabeth Ponsonby and her fraught relationship with her parents (chronicled extensively in their diaries). It’s almost as though Taylor meant to write a biography of Elizabeth, realized he didn’t have enough material to write it, and expanded the book to focus on all the Bright Young Things of the period. There’s also a lot about Brenda Dean Paul’s drug addiction and weight loss; but in contrast, there’s not a whole lot about any of the other people of the “movement—“ not even on the Mitfords or Evelyn Waugh. There’s also a dearth of information on the Bright Young Things’ relationships with each other, which was disappointing to me.

There’s also not much on the parties themselves, and the author doesn’t convey much of the fun atmosphere that those Bright young Things had; instead, he seems more focused on analyzing the period and its implications (“not seeing the trees for the forest” syndrome). As a result, the tone of the book tends to be a bit stilted and—dare I say it? dull. There are lots of plot summaries of the novels of Bright Young People (if you haven’t read Highland Fling, A Dance to the Music of Time, or Vile Bodies, here are the cliff notes), and the author tends to rely on these as sources for this book. On the other hand, the book does an excellent job of highlighting the disparity between the generations: the fluidity of the new generation versus the more stolid, late-Victorian generation of their parents. In addition, the book does inspire me to want to read Vile Bodies and Highland Fling...


Glad you reviewed this. It's a book that based on it's initial description, I would have bought in a heartbeat. I think ultimately, though, the same things that bothered you would have irritated me, too. The idea was a good one, but it sounds like the execution was lacking a bit.

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