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Publisher's Summary

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 05-16-15

Slow Start then Subtle

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.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Worth getting thru the first chapter...

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!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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unexpected ending

great writing. subtle humor wonderful descriptions. ending left me shocked. totally unexpected. great food for thought

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Very funny and very sad at the same time

Wonderful,nuanced narration. Just the right understatement.

The guileless Tony is lost from day one though that only becomes clear as circumstances change.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful and sad at the same time

A brilliantly written decomposition of a marriage. It irrevocably makes you sympathise with the unfortunate husband and the question arises whether boredom with a dull spouse is a good enough reason to set in motion the mechanics that without exception produce calamity and affliction. In my view, Brenda Last is an Anna Karenina unpunished. While poor Tony accumulates most of the bad luck from the broken marriage which he had not enough spirit to prevent from falling apart, she manages to keep the water from ever really entering her boat.

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    4 out of 5 stars

A social commentary- a cautionary tale

A story set in England in the 1930's where the main character is challenged by life events that "strip away" the illusions of his life. The illusions that are stripped away include that he is safe because of his money and position and the illusion that he is valued having been a both a loving husband and a loving father.

In the course of a short time period he is beset both by the death of his son; and his wife's filing for a decree of divorce.

Initially he agrees to the divorce terms - but when revised terms are presented that would require him to sell his ancestral estate - he fights the divorce decree, changes his will leaving the estate to his family - and travels to Brazil where he is thought to have perished.

Which are the most dangerous jungles - Brazil or a portion of London Society of the 1930's with their cliques and behavioral expectations - brought about from their "bubble like" existence?

What is a man stripped of his relationships - but a "Handful of Dust?"

A reminder (as if one is needed) how quickly all can be taken away from us -and how we persist with the illusion of "being in control".

What to do when. "It all goes bad?"

A sharp commentary on English society.

Carl Gallozzi
Cgallozzi@comcast.net

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Unexpected developments

The story is interesting. The characters are surprising. Nobody behaved as I would have expected them to.

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A beautiful novel.

Evelyn Waugh is a wonderful English writer. Please read his works and enjoy! You won't be disappointed.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Delightful tale of infidelity

What made the experience of listening to A Handful of Dust the most enjoyable?

It was very amusing and kept me engaged the whole way through. When it was over I wanted more!

Who was your favorite character and why?

I liked the paramore, he was different than typical lovers and I liked that this wasn't a cookie cutter novel about high society.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Loved this book. Surprised me a few times!

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  • Daniel
  • Spokane, WA, United States
  • 06-01-13

Saterical treatment of human decadence

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.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful