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4 of 5 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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