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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 25 March 2014
I'm a big fan of Evelyn Waugh's writing and read this novel for the second time recently (I don't re-read books very often and found more pleasure in it this time than the first).
A Handful of Dust concerns the lives of Tony and Brenda Last, an aristocratic married couple with a young son. Tony is heir to his family estate - a gothic mansion, Hetton Abbey, which he loves and is patiently restoring - while Brenda is bored and takes up with a pathetic, socialite; the type who worries about having to buy a round of drinks at his club and lingers waiting for someone to offer to buy him one. What follows is dark and tragic.
When her affair is discovered, her husband agrees to a divorce and to save her blushes allows her to divorce him for adultery. But, in reality, he crumbles and during the second half of the book decides to get away from it all. He goes on an amazing journey to the Amazon. What he finds there is truly sinister. Even if you don't like the characters - none of them are particularly likeable - It is worth reading to the end to find out what happens to Tony.
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on 20 July 2010
I expected dark humour, but I found this book desperately sad. The only character with any real meaning was the husband, who suffers the most unjust catalogue of misfortunes. The son was obviously only there to die.
Others in my book group had a different edition which explained that the book was written as a prequel to the final, jungle, section : this makes a lot of sense.
A few lighter touches were enjoyable. I particularly liked the local parson endlessly recycling his sermons of the Empire, and the seaside escapade had some charm. Read Waugh, but start with a different book.
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on 9 June 2012
Given that 'A Handful Of Dust' takes its title from the line 'I will show you fear in a handful of dust' from TS Eliot's the Waste Land, I anticipated that the novel would be somehow a psychological thriller.

Instead A Handful Of Dust is a black comedy novel about Brenda and Tony Last who live comfortably in Tony's ancestral home with their son John Andrew, they are part of wider High Society and both receive parties of visitors and attend parties elsewhere.

Brenda, who has become bored engages in a dalliance with a young man, apparently something that many women of her status have been known to do, but when things go too far their ordinary life is shattered.

The back of my copy states that the reader doesn't know whose side Waugh is on, but to my mind it was definitely Tony's, and Waugh sets out to paint a picture of women in society of that era, who can and do ruin men for the sake of it and get off unblemished. It's quite a modern outlook if you consider that the maxim in most divorces is that "the woman gets the lot".

A Handful Of Dust is often funny with plenty of darkly comic moments, such as when Tony, who is innocent of wrongdoing attempts to be indiscreet to avoid a scandal for Brenda. Tony is a tragicomic long suffering figure, and several points are made about the imbalance in acceptable standards.

The end is one of the weirdest endings I have ever read in a novel. Truly bizarre. But, the ultimate message seems to promote the argument that men, rather than women are disposable as long as society at large is happy. Thought provoking. 7/10
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on 20 December 2004
I re-read it recently, 20 years after discovering a hilarious novel.
This time it was much more than that; tragi-comic, and a masterpiece. AVOID THE FILM!
The first reviewer shot my fox. Nothing to add.
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on 11 August 2012
This is definitely a book of two halves - the first half is somewhat sluggish
concerning itself with the London party season circa 1930s and an affair -
not wholly convincingly it has to be said,

The second half bursts into life and for a moment you think you are reading a
totally different novel. A tale of Amazonian rainforests emerges albeit
somewhat unbelievably. But the second half is a terrific tale of
endeavour and survical - boys own stuff - no doubt symbolic but a great
read in the mould of Heart of Darkness.

A strange novel and well worth the effort of perservering with the first part.
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on 8 December 2012
Like most books by Evelyn Waugh this book won't dissappoint. It deals with a past where money became more important than aristocracy (although both were ideal) and society was governed by rules.
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on 14 June 2012
A deliciously savage novel - funny and so well written. I read a bit of Waugh when I was a teenager but completely failed to pick up on how good he is. Time to revisit Brideshead, perhaps.
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on 12 August 2014
This novel I had read many years ago.Missing from my bookcase.Now I have read it again,and enjoyed it ever more so.
William.
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on 5 May 2014
This book is a fresh as it was when it was first written. It is a witty, satirical novel with a great plot.
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on 13 June 2013
Evelyn Waugh at his best, always a delight to read his books. Definitely in my top 5 of favourite authors
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