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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel from a Master Satirist
You know that when you see a passage from Eliot's THE WASTE LAND appearing before the title page that you are not headed for 300 pages of fun and games. Sure there is the usual stock of Waugh humor, wit, and snappy dialogue to be had here, but this ranks as amongst his darkest novels. It's tragicomedy at its finest. It's also one of the most beautifully written novels...
Published on 27 Jun 2004 by Bruce Kendall

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, clever, merciless satire
This satire from the 1930s is - as one would expect from Waugh - sharp, clever and merciless to its targets; although by the end it has veered off to some odd places, which might strengthen its impact, or may just prove to dark for some readers. Much like his excellent `Vile Bodies', Waugh takes us to a distinctly Wodehouse-esque universe of aristocrats and bright young...
Published on 27 Aug 2012 by F.R. Jameson


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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel from a Master Satirist, 27 Jun 2004
By 
Bruce Kendall "BEK" (Southern Pines, NC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
You know that when you see a passage from Eliot's THE WASTE LAND appearing before the title page that you are not headed for 300 pages of fun and games. Sure there is the usual stock of Waugh humor, wit, and snappy dialogue to be had here, but this ranks as amongst his darkest novels. It's tragicomedy at its finest. It's also one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read, perfect in pitch, cadence, wording, razor sharp characterization, mood, you name it.
Like a number of his novels, it is set primarily in England, between the wars, bouncing back and forth between London and an Estate in the country. The plot boils down to the break up of a marriage and the decline and fall of the central character, Lord of the manor and eventual "Explorer," Anthony (Tony) Mast.
Tony means well. He really does. It's just that he's so fixated on maintaining Hetton, his hereditary estate, that he doesn't even notice when his lovely wife Brenda engages in an affair with an inconsequential and boorish young society chap to whom Waugh assigns the inglorious name, John Beaver.
Waugh's customary drollery comes to the fore as he depicts the cavalier attitudes towards the affair on the part of Tony's and Brenda's social circle. They are rather like actors in a Restoration play, whose moral compasses have become entirely skewed. Though not as moralistic as some of Waugh's late novels, A HANDFUL OF DUST definitely offers a portrait of a very decadent society, indeed. These are not sympathetic characters. Even the two children who enter into the plot are hardly what one would call likeable.
This novel definitely takes some unexpected turns, leading us eventually to a denouement in the Amazon Jungle. The ending has to rank as one of the greatest in literature.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. The English are the greatest satirists and Waugh was the master of the genre amongst 20th century writers. My only minor quibble is that at times I had a tough time keeping up with names of some of the characters.
I've got a couple more Waugh books on my list, but will go with VILE BODIES next, as it's already on my shelf.
This edition has print large enough that I didn't need my reading glasses. It's the quickest 300 page novel I've ever read. It only took about 6 hrs cover to cover, and I am not a fast reader. I really was so transfixed that I had to read it straight through, which I don't usually do these days.
BEK
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And that dust is golden, 27 Nov 2002
This review is from: A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Waugh was a wine critic with no equal. He is a satirist with no equal. His eye for social detail could not be crisper, his tongue could not be sharper. At times he will have you writhing with laughter; at times he will have you crying in pain.
As with much of Waugh's work his own life is a weighty influence. What distinguishes this novel from his earlier work is the heavy undercurrent that permeates thoughout. The title of the work is taken from T.S. Eliot's seminal modernist work 'The Waste Land', and that is precisely what Waugh sets out to describe. Although the humour follows on through Waugh's work, this is not the light-hearted jaunt through English polite society of 'Vile Bodies'. On occasion 'A Handful of Dust' is dark and damning.
That said, the work is highly amusing in places. Such a marriage of humour and despair might seem improbable if not impossible. It would be for rank-and-file satirists. Waugh is a class apart.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good As it Gets: Surreal, Amoral, Aristocratic Decadence, 28 July 2007
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
"And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du? "
The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot 1922

Evelyn Waugh has given us a dark, witty, satirical novel that takes aim at the post World War I upper class society. His writing is biting and sharp and sometimes hilarious. Tony Last ( the last of the dwindling English gentry ) is smitten, smitten with his boring life at Hetton, his ancesteral, crumbling home. His fortune has dwindeled and there is not much left for his family. His wife whom he adores, Brenda, is smitten also, but not with Tony. She is bored and has found a lover, John Beaver (yes, Beaver). He is a sponger of life and of Brenda and ultimately , Tony. Brenda has rented a flat in London from John's mother- what goes around, comes around. She is smitten with the social life. Tony is unaware of any of the happenings- he trusts his beloved Brenda and is too busy with his life. Their son, John, is a slightly annoying pawn in this tragic comedy. Waugh has written a disaster of scathing proportions and the family such as it is, falls apart. None of these characters are in the least likeable. Not one could bring some semblance of order and honesty to this aristocratic crowd. There is wit, but with the humor comes a feeling of loss. Tony becomes his own person when he goes on a trip to the Amazon. That portion of the tale is interspersed with Brenda's social life in London. The ending is amazing and Dickensonian,if you get my drift.

"My novel also included a happier ending for an American audience, which doesn't surprise me at all. Go and read it and see if you are a tough Britisher or a wimpy Yank who would prefer some Canderel with their Waugh." Peter Walker

A most riveting novel, entertaining and sharp. One I shall remember for a long time to come.

Most Highly Recommended. prisrob 7-22-07

Waugh Abroad: The Collected Travel Writing (Everyman's Library)

Diaries of Evelyn Waugh
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, clever, merciless satire, 27 Aug 2012
This review is from: A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This satire from the 1930s is - as one would expect from Waugh - sharp, clever and merciless to its targets; although by the end it has veered off to some odd places, which might strengthen its impact, or may just prove to dark for some readers. Much like his excellent `Vile Bodies', Waugh takes us to a distinctly Wodehouse-esque universe of aristocrats and bright young things. And yet this doesn't have the exuberance of that earlier book, instead venturing to areas far crueller and colder. I reach for the name Wodehouse as that's the obvious comparison for anything detailing young gadabouts in London, but this is really a different beast all together - a Wodehouse that confronts adultery, death and the meaningless of life.

Brenda Last, bored of her existance in the country with her husband Toby, comes to London and embarks on an affair with young wastrel named John Beaver - thus setting off a chain of events which shakes ordered lives around and allows Waugh to vent his spleen across the upper echelons of society. However I can't help thinking, given the repercussions of this affair, that it's oddly sexless and passionless. The whole torrid romance (if that's what one would call it) seems to be going on off-stage while simultaneously happening on-stage - we think we're looking at it but clearly the actual spark is missing. That's no doubt a deliberate move on Waugh's part, as it makes Brenda seem even more selfish, while the character of John Beaver - who at the start seems like he is going to be a major figure in the narrative - just seems to become more and more a cipher.

The ending will no doubt be seen by some as an incredible comeuppance for one of the major characters of the book, while others will surely view it as a bizarre and cruel twist. Certainly it's a scenario that wouldn't be out of place in a horror novel, but I think I fall slightly more into the comeuppance camp. After all, when you pick up a book that's billed as a satire, you can't really complain that that satire it just too savage?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bleak and bitter book, 22 May 2011
By 
hiljean (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This is Waugh at his most acidic and, in my view, least funny. Tony Last adores his spoilt, beautiful wife Brenda, but she finds him boring and obsessed with the Gothic monstrosity that is his family seat. She embarks on an affair with a shallow and impoverished social-climber, John Beaver, and in the process destroys her marriage. When her small son, also called John, dies in a riding accident, on hearing that "John has died" she initially thinks it is her lover and feels relief when she realises her mistake. A shocking indictment of the neglect of their children by the upper classes who are further pilloried when Brenda tries to interest her husband in her flighty and fancy-free friends to distract him from her increasingly lengthy absences from home.

Perhaps Waugh is casting an accusing and sardonic eye on the behaviour of the upper classes, but this does not seem to be offset by the wit that carries some of his other works.

The final chapters, as other reviewers have commented, descend into farce when Tony embarks on a trip up the Amazon with a nutty explorer.

I cannot rate this amongst the best of Waugh's works - for a brilliant combination of the comic and the serious, the beautifully written Sword of Honour trilogy takes some beating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So worth revisiting another Brideshead, 28 Feb 2011
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I searched this out after hearing it described as a favourite on 'My Life in Books'. As I began to read it I remembered watching 'A Handful of Dust' as tv drama. It is dry, funny, clever and gives a crystal sharp picture of the society and time; think newly impoverished landed gentry, London clubs, parties, hunting, shooting, social superiority, dangerous liasons and agonisingly disjointed marital relationships. One sentence sets this book apart and that is delivered by Brenda on hearing the most dreadful news. Such polished writing lifts the heart even though the ending could be taken as crazy. Part farce, part tragedy, part adventure story, part romance; this has it all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More fun than I expected, 20 Mar 2010
By 
John Davison - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Nicholas Lezard of the Guardian says on the back cover of my edition: "One of the twentieth century's most chilling and bitter novels."

This is what the title made me believe, so I avoided this book for thirty years, while I read and re-read Vile Bodies, the Loved One and Decline and Fall. It goes back to having Eliot's suicide-inducing poetry inflicted on you in the sixth form, at an age when you'd prefer something to cheer you up.

But having taken the plunge, I was surprised and delighted, on the whole. Evelyn Waugh makes his characters too much like caricatures for us to take them entirely seriously, and hence we end up not taking ourselves too seriously either.

One does wish he had stuck to travelling from the English countryside to London and back again. Waugh is always at his best when writing about the eccentricities of the British. Once he gets us lost in the jungle the magic tends to evaporate.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars tomlindup@hotmail.com, 21 Jan 2006
By 
Thomas Lindup "tlindup" (London) - See all my reviews
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This is a good book, but not without its faults. It is a book that highlights the fragility of what we can often take for granted.Tony Last is happy with the life he leads in his country pile. He performs his paternalistic duties with the natural applomb of those whose whole existence has been geared to the day he will inherit. His relationship is apparently the envy of his social set in London. His wife is intelligent, vivacious, beautiful and totally committed to him and their son, John. But all is not what it seems. This seemingly perfect relationship is tested by a particularly objectionable individual, if only due to his mediocrity, and the havoc he wreaks (and in his weak passivity appears to have no moral qualms about) to a relationship we are all gunning for. The lack of emotion of the protagonists is simulataneously admirable and nauseating. So far so good. However, the two faults in the book relate to the rather bizarre description of a journey to Brazil which is both unconvincing and not particularly interesting reading and the two potential endings, both of which are rather unsatisfactory. Still worth it however, as ever, accute and perceptive writing that forces you to come down on one side or the other.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Handful of Chapters., 18 Nov 2003
By 
P J Taylor (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Handful of Dust (Paperback)
Ultimately, for a writer like Evelyn Waugh who had magic in almost everything in he wrote I found this book a bit disappointing and that is only because of the way he ends the book.
There are two major problems that I had suspending belief for this story, although when it does work it is classic Waugh and very entertaining: acerbic, satirical and quite funny.
Firstly, he does not endeavour to explain why, although I wouldn't need much convincing that things like this happen in real life, a seemingly very happily married woman in her early thirties who is still very much in love with her husband,has a child, lives in a country manor, and is generally of sound mind would undertake an affair with the character John Beaver who is made out as much as possible at the beginning of the book to be a social leper without any redeeming features or, indeed, much money either. There was no seam so to speak of when suddenly a few pages in Lady Last has taken up with this miserable one-dimensional social pariah for absolutely no reason at all, at least not a reason that I could make out.
Secondly, once again, we have someone acting completely out of character. As Mark Twain said (I'm quite sure):"The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense". But to me, this laconic, laid back country squire suddenly taking off down the Amazon because his wife is having an affair really just seemed like an excuse for Waugh to finish off a fine story by employing some of his travel experiences. English Gothic indeed! Before we know it we are in the land of Paul Bowles, dark forests, disease, fever and inhospitable tribes. I had to keep reminding myself I was reading the same book, this really was going off on a tangent. I understand that 'The Man Who Likes Dickens' was originally a short story for an American magazine, it should have been left thus and not tacked on to the end of this book. It's a great shame, almost similar to what lets down Vile Bodies, Waugh getting divorced halfway through writing the book and when he returned to it the dynamic was lost.
Apart from that, well worth reading!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful dialogue, 9 Aug 2014
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I have avoided this author since a child due to watching a little of Brideshead Revisited at an early age and finding it boring (too young to appreciate it). This book however is easy to follow, full of dialogue and a joy to read. The alternative ending is bizare to say the least, but the original conclusion is a logical end to the book. i now want to read more of his work and may actually look for Brideshead Revisited.
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A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics) by Evelyn Waugh (Paperback - 7 Dec 2000)
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