A Handful of Dust: Evelyn Waugh

(This review initially appeared on my Tumblr)

I’ve decided to review A Handful of Dust, a book by a gentleman misleadingly named Evelyn Waugh. I really thought Evelyn was a woman’s name until looking up the details on this little number and realizing that the author is, in fact, a man. Oh well. We won’t hold it against him, because he’s written a strange, clever little bit of fiction.

Published in 1934, the British author satirizes upper-class English customs. I am sometimes shocked by the modernity displayed in older pieces of writing – this book, while less than a hundred years old, is certainly not new, yet the themes and subjects are talked about with a clear-eyed intensity. There are no delicate euphemisms, and I find that beautifully refreshing.

A tragicomedy of sorts, the book begins with a placid upper-class couple and their amusing boy leading lives of mundanity. The wife, of course, is the first to get bored and begins an affair with what we modern ladies might call an ‘absolute waste of time,’ ‘tool,’ and other such descriptive factors. Essentially, he’s there to fill the table at dinner parties. His personality can best be described as a plate of pasta with nothing on it. He’s dull, grotesque in his unthinking rudeness, and very well-written.

After the affair begins, events quickly spiral out of control, by turns amusing and sad (Waugh proves he’s more than a clever satirist with the moving scenes surrounding the son’s death) and ends in tragic absurdity. Also, Brazil.  Further than that I WILL NOT TELL YOU. Read it.

It’s definitely worth a read, and it’s a quick one at that. While the beginning starts off a bit dry and frankly, very 1930’s -ish, once you get past the lunch-parties and spare drawing rooms and butlers, it becomes a pretty solid read. It was also chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English language novels from 1923 to the present, which admittedly is a list with several descriptors, but hey. If you don’t believe me, at least believe TIME magazine.

One response to “A Handful of Dust: Evelyn Waugh

  1. Pingback: Bad Books, and Why They’re (Sometimes) Worth Reading | Books I Should Have Read A Long Time Ago·

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