Evelyn Waugh's 1934 novel is a bitingly funny vision of aristocratic decadence in England between the wars. It tells the story of Tony Last, who, to the irritation of his wife, is inordinately obsessed with his Victorian Gothic country house and life. When Lady Brenda Last embarks on an affair with the worthless John Beaver out of boredom with her husband, she sets in motion a sequence of tragicomic disasters that reveal Waugh at his most scathing.
The action is set in the brittle social world recognizable from Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies, darkened and deepened by Waugh's own experience of sexual betrayal. As Tony is driven by the urbane savagery of this world to seek solace in the wilds of the Brazilian jungle, A Handful of Dust demonstrates the incomparably brilliant and wicked wit of one of the 20th century's most accomplished novelists.
©1962 Evelyn Waugh (P)2012 Hachette Audio
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
This book takes quite a bit of time to get going, but finally becomes worth the slog. The first 1/3 of the book is very English aristocrat society with a bunch of setup and with classically stilted and mostly uninteresting characters. Then the cucumber sandwiches hit the fan and the story suddenly becomes an unexpectedly human story.
Many (if not most) readers may not appreciate this book. It starts unbelievably slowly, then becomes a subtly dark, subtly satirical, subtly futile, subtly sad story. Notice there is a lot of subtly in there.
This is not an overtly funny book, but I laughed out loud a number of times, but these were dark, almost guilt inducing, laughs (the “why did I laugh at that, that’s not funny” kind of laugh). The humor is highly contextual, elusive, and mixed with futility and disillusionment.
I ended up liking this book quite a bit, but it is not something I would read again soon. The narration is really completely OK but not outstanding in any way and some of the voices are too characterized for my taste.
Don't like bad narrators ruining good writing. To be fair, liking someone's voice is subjective but good narration has sensitivity, nuance, power and a rich understanding of the text. Minor pet peeve: narrators who've not researched foreign pronunciation or elevated English. Lazy!
This book was such a surprise. I had read Waugh as a teenager but missed this one. It's very funny, at times shockingly anachronistic but wry and tragi-comic. Where it ends is a million miles from where it starts. Begin the journey!
Tony and Brenda Last, well endowed with legacy, are the best of cultivated English aristocracy. That is until Brenda's inexplicable affair with the annoying and feckless John Beaver, fostered by the same suave aristocratic society, immolates the marriage. Tony, abashed by the hypocritical divorce proceeding, decided to take a life changing Amazon exploration where he received more than he bargained for. Handful of Dust is layered with comical cynicism, while its core lay bare the face of human decadence.
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