Tag Archives: A Handful of Dust

Evelyn Waugh Month Round-Up

Evelyn Waugh

So I have finally come to the end of my month of reading books by Evelyn Waugh and have enjoyed the books and the challenge.

I had plans to read more but I ended up reading four of his books, reviews of which can be found by clicking on the titles:

Scoop
Vile Bodies
A Handful of Dust
The Loved One

Each of these books was very different to the next, although they did have a similar stye to them. Ever-present is Evelyn Waugh’s satirical view of the rich and fashionable mainly in the period between the two World Wars. I thought he was so adept at capturing that lost generation, something that was summed up so succinctly in The Loved One that the characters “came of a generation which enjoys a vicarious intimacy with death”. I think Vile Bodies was my favourite of the four as it was such a hoot to read and was a bit of escapism, telling you about the crazy lives of the Bright Young Things.

I noticed that The Loved One is dedicated to Nancy Mitford. I don’t know why I never put these two writers together before – I’d only read Brideshead Revisited by Waugh and The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Mitford so perhaps I wasn’t in the most educated position. Their writing styles do have similarities, a certain eccentric wit that runs through the prose, dropping little in-jokes that are later alluded to and you feel like part of the in-crowd. If you are a fan of Waugh I’d suggest that Nancy Mitford might be a good author for you to read next.

I actually did a class in my final year of university called Literary Snobbery which was how I discovered Mitford. It was a brilliant course which I thoroughly enjoyed and one which exposed me to a lot of writers I hadn’t come across before. What I’m wondering is, where was Waugh on the course list? I think he would have fit in rather well!

I was joined in Evelyn Waugh Month by Heavenali, who read and reviewed Vile Bodies to coincide with my month of reading Waugh and I also stumbled across a review of another of Waugh’s books Decline and Fall over on Book Snob which was rather timely and has of course added another book to my list of books to read.

I really enjoyed doing this and hope to do the same in future with a different author – it’s such a great way to get to know an author, to read books by them in close succession. I have in my head W. Somerset Maugham or Graham Greene in mind but would love to hear any suggestions. Is there any particular author you would like to have a go at reading for a month? Perhaps someone whom you have always meant to read but have just never gotten round to it?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary musings

Book Review: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

a handful of dust

Continuing on with my month of reading books by Evelyn Waugh, last week I was reading A Handful of Dust. I seem to remember that it was the title of this book which appealed to me – which in fact was taken from T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Wasteland’. This feels like a much more serious book, and I think I was ready for that after the heady abandon of the characters in Vile Bodies. That’s not to say they aren’t reckless in their own way, but they are slightly older, with more commitments in the way of family homes to run and children to care for. This makes their actions all the more shocking I think – there’s nothing particularly alarming about young singletons going out on the ran dan, but when it is done with a lack of regard to a family they have built up and are required to care for that is another matter altogether.

The story revolves around husband and wife, Tony and Brenda Last, who live out in the country in the Gothic manor that Tony has inherited. They spend their mornings lolling about, leaving their young son John in the care of a somewhat uncouth stable-hand, then reprimand him for using naughty words and saying rough things about those he meets. There is a listlessness to the Lasts – they don’t seem to do very much and it is not much of a surprise to me that Brenda becomes bored. She embarks on an affair with the dull John Beaver, who is never quite at ease in the Bloomsbury set, always waiting on last-minute invitations to dinners and events as he is known for being a single man and a readily available space-filler if someone cancels at short notice.

There were elements of this book which reminded me a little of Anna Karenina – a bored woman seduced by a young man and giving up a lot to be with him. Brenda is bored with her life, and escapes to London, spending more and more time away from home ‘studying’ and fobbing Tony off with excuses as to why she cannot come home. She completely abandons her child and it is clear that she doesn’t care much for him. It’s really hard to have much sympathy for any of the characters in this novel as they are all very flawed but they are so vague that they don’t even notice their own failings. Writing this review I almost feel that this novel left a strange feeling of malaise hanging over me, drawn in as I was by their stories.

That’s what Waugh does so well, capturing this generation between the wars that doesn’t know what to do with itself. The characters are from a slightly older generation than in Vile Bodies but the sentiments are the same; a listlessness and feeling of unreality.

After the frivolities of the Bright Young Things in Vile Bodies, and the farcical comedy of errors that is Scoop, this came as something of a shock. It’s serious, but still retains a lot of elements which can be held up to ridicule. I almost would have liked for this book to be more realistic, more serious and grown-up, much as I’d like its characters to take a bit more responsibility. It’s almost as if nothing can be taken seriously again after the horror of the First World War. The beauty of what Waugh does in this book is to create these characters that are so affected by the War but they don’t even realise how affected they are.

I found the ending a bit odd and unbelievable. Like most people I’m sure, I thought that Tony was a bit wet and all too easily fooled by Brenda’s indiscretions. The moment that he finally does stand up to her feels like a big moment for the reader but leads on to him going on a strange journey into the heart of South America. I’d like to discuss this more but don’t want to give too much away! There is a particular part which Waugh had originally written as a short story called ‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’ – it’s quite creepy but I think led Waugh down a well-trodden road of being slightly absurd. I really enjoyed this episode and found it absorbing and quite unsettling, but I’m not sure about how well it fit in to the story.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

Evelyn Waugh Month: The Loved One

Apologies on the delay on posting this week – it has been rather hectic with a lot going on and I feel like my reading and blogging mojo took a leave of absence. I’m finishing up my review of A Handful of Dust which I’ll post soon and I have one more little book to squeeze in on Evelyn Waugh Month – although I know it’s May already!

The final book I’ll be reading by Evelyn Waugh for my month of reading, is The Loved One. It’s quite a short one at 128 pages so I don’t think it will take me as long as A Handful of Dust. I also have a sneaking suspicion it will not be quite as serious!

The Loved One

The blurb:

“Following the death of a friend, poet and pets’ mortician Dennis Barlow finds himself entering into the artificial Hollywood paradise of the Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Within its golden gates, death, American-style, is wrapped up and sold like a package holiday. There, Dennis enters the fragile and bizarre world of Aimée, the naïve Californian corpse beautician, and Mr Joyboy, the master of the embalmer’s art …

A dark and savage satire on the Anglo-American cultural divide, The Loved One depicts a world where love, reputation and death cost a very great deal.”

I think it will be quite a surreal little book, and somewhere closer to Scoop in its absurdity than the other books I’ve read this month. Looking forward to it! After this book, I’ll post my review and do a little round-up on my thoughts on Evelyn Waugh Month overall.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary musings

Evelyn Waugh Month: A Handful of Dust

a handful of dust

I have been a little slow on my reading this month – I can’t believe it’s almost May already! I’ll finish off Vile Bodies today ( I would have finished it last night if I hadn’t left it in my desk at work!) and post my review this evening. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next book I’ll be reading by Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust:

“After seven years of marriage the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, A Handful of Dust captures the irresponsible mood of the ‘crazy and sterile generation’ between the wars. The breakdown of the Last marriage, is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh’s own divorce and a symbol of the disintegration of society.”

I think this sounds just wonderful and highlights what I’m really enjoying about reading lots of Waugh books together – they all complement each other so well and although the stories are different of course, there are common themes running throughout. Really looking forward to starting this one – tonight if I’m lucky!

Read more about what I’m reading for Evelyn Waugh Month.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

March Reading Round-Up & April Preview

March Books

March wasn’t a particularly busy reading month but I did read some really good books and ones that were quite different from each other too. I think my favourite book this month has been The Search by Geoff Dyer as I got really drawn into it.

Books from March are:
The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Search by Geoff Dyer
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I also published a review of The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins which I read back in November last year.

I’m really happy with my blogging this month as I feel like I am finally getting the hang of it and being a little more consistent in putting up reviews soon after I’ve read a book. It’s taken me a while to get to this stage and I find that I am enjoying it more and more. I started a new Wish List page where I aim to put links to reviews that have inspired me to read something that I hadn’t heard of or just hadn’t fancied before. So far I have Life After Life by Kate Atkinson on there which I will hopefully get my hands on soon!

April Books

I’m really looking forward to what’s in store in April as I have embarked upon something a little different by reading several books by Evelyn Waugh all in one month. I started reading Scoop yesterday which I’m already finding very funny, and after that I’ll be reading Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust. Another of Waugh’s books, The Loved One was recommended to me by Fleur Fisher of the Fleur Fisher in her world books blog – I don’t have a copy but I’m planning to borrow one from my local library and add it to my list. If I have time, I may even re-read Brideshead Revisited! I might try and catch up on a few Waugh films too – I’ve seen the 2008 film version of Brideshead Revisited but didn’t rate it highly and I’ve heard the TV series with Jeremy Irons from the ’80s is far superior so I’ll see if I can find that. The film version of A Handful of Dust has also been recommended to me so I’ll try and track that down, as well as watching Bright Young Things after I have read Vile Bodies (the book on which the film was based).

Finally, I have also looked out Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck to re-read as I was reminded of it so much when reading The Cone-Gatherers and fancied reading it again. So I have a busy month ahead of me and potentially 6 books to get through – looking forward to it!

5 Comments

Filed under Literary musings

Evelyn Waugh Month

This coming April, I have decided to give myself a challenge to read three Evelyn Waugh books in a month as there were quite a few of his books I wanted to read. I read Brideshead Revisited a few years ago and just loved it, and I have to admit that I was also inspired by Stephen Fry’s wonderful film Bright Young Things which was inspired by Waugh’s Vile Bodies. If you fancy joining in at all please do let me know!

The three that I have on my shelves are:

Vile Bodies
A Handful of Dust

Scoop

I plan to start with Scoop and will be reading this in the first week of April if anyone is up for a read-a-long. I’m also happy to take suggestions if there are any other books by Evelyn Waugh you think I should be reading.

P.S. Isn’t the incredibly writerly photo of Evelyn Waugh just exactly what you would expect of him?

13 Comments

Filed under Literary musings

Reading Plans for 2013

What my reading looks like for this year so far...

What my reading looks like for this year so far…

I tried the structured approach last year, with my reading list. Although I think that was useful as it brought together some of the books I had been wanting to read for some time, I think this year I will be reading more on whim. There are always interesting books that pop up throughout the year so the list of books I want to read grows and grows. I have already finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn which was just brilliant and I only first caught wind of it a couple of months ago. It was a book club pick so I’ll wait until after then to discuss it more and leave you hanging on…

I will be working my way through my bookshelves as they stand at the moment. From this, two portions of planned reading have emerged, thanks to a little pre-Christmas indulgence when Penguin were doing their 50% discount deal.

The first of these two will be a burst of classics. I really like the Penguin English Library covers and I used it as an excuse to buy some classics I hadn’t read. I’ll be starting this in mid-January, finishing (hopefully!) by the end of February. The books on the list are stellar, and I am a little ashamed to say that I have never read them:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I know, I know, I hang my head – a young woman who loves Kate Bush and hasn’t even read Wuthering Heights?! I did start it when I was younger but didn’t get very far… This will be duly rectified soon and I cannot wait – I want to see what all the fuss is about! The 28th of January sees the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice so I will be reading that after finishing off my current read, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

The next planned reading session is an Evelyn Waugh month. I read Brideshead Revisited a few years ago and really loved it, and since seeing Stephen Fry’s film Bright Young Things I have been keen to read Vile Bodies as that’s what it is based on. Again, these were picked up for a steal from Penguin. There are three to read and I may try and make a little event out of this – I’m pencilling this in for April at the moment but this may change. The books I’ll be reading by Waugh will be:

Vile Bodies
A Handful of Dust
Scoop

I quite like the idea of small, focused challenges to get stuck into as I think they’ll also make me more focused in my blogging. Time will tell! If you fancy reading some of these books along with me then do let me know – the more the merrier.

Oh, and all the best for 2013!

Leave a comment

Filed under Random Posts