Gilbert Pinfold is a reclusive Catholic novelist suffering from acute inertia. In an attempt to keep insomnia at bay he has been imbibing an unappetizing cocktail of bromide, chloral and creme de menthe. He books a passage on the SS Caliban, and as it cruises towards Rangoon, he slips into madness.
That's particularly sad in the case of Waugh, who often has great swathes of distance in his work. But here... well, I just can't help feeling like it's just a bunch of self pity. Had I come out of the book feeling like Waugh himself had learned from his Pinfoldian experience (i.e., that some of his various sillinesses were not harmlessly silly, but actually obnoxious), I might have had a better time. As it was, Pinfold comes out of it feeling like he's a superman who can defeat psychological disturbance with an apt phrase, and that therefore he's quite right to ignore the accusations leveled at him. Is that how Waugh felt? I can't help but believe that it was. If someone can convince me otherwise, I'd really appreciate it, because I suspect this book has made it much harder for me to go back and enjoy Waugh's earlier works.