Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Handful of Dust

Every book I read by British satirist Evelyn Waugh seems to make me into a bigger fan, and A Handful of Dust is no exception.  It is superbly funny, until it turns wickedly macabre in one fell swoop.  It is a biting satire of the idle British landed class, and it ends with one of Waugh's notable short stories, "The Man Who Liked Dickens." 

The novel opens with a glimpse into the life of John Beaver, a rather unlikable man (with which description most of London society apparently agrees).  He's a social climber, lives with his mother, has neither money nor a job and connives for free meals and lodging whenever he can.  He invites himself to Hetton, an unfashionably Gothic estate owned by his not particularly close friends Brenda and Tony Last.  Tony loves Hetton and is unspeakably irritated by Beaver, making himself scarce for the weekend.  Brenda, left in the position of entertaining Beaver, finds him duly annoying, and ultimately begins an affair with him anyway.

The ensuing pages follow the unraveling of the Lasts' marriage, and the further unraveling of Tony specifically.  It is hilarious and clever and expertly well written, and I will tell no more about it for fear of ruining the fun.  I recommend it unconditionally.

Next up: The Double and The Gambler, two novellas (published together) by my dear Fyodor Dostoevsky translated by - you guessed it - the genius duo of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

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