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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 9 August 2014
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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on 12 May 2017
All good. I knew the book anyway but this is a nice edition.
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I picked this up off a (very dusty) shelf a couple of weeks ago, dimly recalling the plot from the 1988 film adaption. It's a tale of betrayal, delusion, disappointment and decadence, in which actions and situations are described in a neutral tone that gives the story a satirical air, with serious undercurrents. The dialogue gives an exact impression of the time in which it was set: people say things like "But look here, my dear fellow", "Splendid. I *am* glad. It's beastly going up at this time, particularly by that train", and "It's not only that. I think it's hard cheese on Tony". (The reliance on dialogue to move the story along is heightened by the - then - novel use of telephone conversations.) And just when you think that the story of the infidelity of Lady Brenda and the cynicism of society is proceeding along depressingly predictable lines, the story takes a sharp turn about two-thirds of the way through and heads off into a different world, with very surprising results. It's an engrossing tale which doesn't take long to read, and, whilst it might prove too dark for some readers, is an enjoyable piece of work.
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on 1 November 2016
I am just reading this for our book club.and it is the first Evelyn Waugh I have read and is not filling me with enthusiasm. I know many people are great fans so probably we will be reading others so I have to refer my judgement.
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on 21 April 2017
What a dreary, depressing book! I didn't really care about any of the characters except perhaps Tony, and found the ending very unsatisfactory. I don't like analysing books and looking for what the author was trying to tell us, and no doubt I'm missing all the hidden meanings about society at the time, but I just found it a bit tedious to read.
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"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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on 27 August 2012
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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on 27 November 2002
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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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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on 27 June 2004
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.
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