Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: A Handful of Dust

Title: A Handful of Dust
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 16+

Welcome to English high society during the 1930s. John Beaver is a "professional luncheon-goer" (back of the book)--a lazy man with no job and friends who only call when their dates stand them up at the very last minute. When Beaver meets Brenda Last, things change dramatically. Brenda has been married to Tony for seven years and the two have an incredibly annoying son named John Andrew. But Brenda is bored, and Beaver is her way out.
Of course, everything falls apart.

Word of Warning:
This is a story of adultery--amid a world filled with it. We see very little, though Brenda does ask what Beaver's sex life is like, but it stops there. It's implied that things happen, but never shown.
The characters have no moral standards at all and live very empty lives. They are petty, negative, and self-centered. They are everything that happens when one encounters Christianity--and turns it down.
There is a death of a young character but even that is quick. Tony catches a terrible fever and is delirious (in one of the most skillfully written delirium scenes of all time). Native Americans are portrayed in a negative light, but digging deep and looking closely, we see that the Englishmen are portrayed in the same way.
Tony and Jock get drunk. Characters party, spend money, and for the most part don't work.
In order to get a divorce, Tony must get "evidence" that he has been unfaithful. This consists of taking a woman (and her daughter) to the seaside and then having breakfast in bed with her.

Word on the Author:
Waugh is a master at the art of writing fiction. He is a Catholic convert and in his writings we see just how despicable a world is without Christianity. We also see a very realistic portrayal of a society Waugh himself belonged to for some time.
He has been referred to as the second greatest author at satire. This means to enjoy the book, one has to pay attention just a tad more than usual. It's well worth it.

My Thoughts:
I loved this book very much. It's full of laughs, utterly horrible things, and a complete lack of morals (but in a negative light). The narration and the dialogue are near-perfection and the whole thing is just so wonderful words fail every time. Granted, the topic is for an older audience, but adultery is, for the most part, just that: a topic. We know that somewhere in the background things are happening, but we see no more than a kiss. Impressively handled.
I assure you I will be reading this over many times, and also reading more Waugh.
A bright light amid all the lack of morals is Tony Last. He is loyal and tries so hard to fix matters when he finally realizes they have gotten out of order. Unfortunately, it's simply too late. But we love him for trying.


grandma jane said...

Being unfamiliar with this author, I'm on the fence whether to pursue reading this one. Sounds quite depressing amid moments of humor. But the title is intriguing, more like perfect for a novel about a life devoid of faith.

Maria Gianna said...

grandma jane,
I would advise that you do read this one. It's not nearly as depressing as I made it sound. It's actually incredibly funny as long as the reader is paying attention and not just skimming along. The ending is a little sad, but fitting.
A very good point about the title! And guess what. That's exactly what this book is. The world of no faith because it was turned down. The characters are lost, confused, searching, and running from themselves. I know that sounds depressing, but it really is incredibly funny to hear Waugh describe their behavior.