Tag Archives: The Loved One

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:

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?


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Book Review: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One

The last of my picks for Evelyn Waugh Month was The Loved One, a novella set in L.A. in the early forties, which follows the fate of a young Englishman Dennis Barlow and his attempts to acclimatise to America and to court a young corpse beautician Aimée, whom he meets whilst arranging a funeral for his friend. Dennis himself works in a mortuary, although nothing quite so grand as Whispering Glades where Aimée works, a land of archways and gardens and every kind of possibility to make sure that the ‘loved one’ is ushered from this world in style. Dennis deals with funerals for pets, and his occupation is something of a worry to the local ex-pats who commune at the cricket club to discuss English interests and the sorts of jobs suitably respectable for an English gentleman in America.

I read this novella in one sitting on a Saturday morning whilst eating a rather yummy plate of scrambled eggs and pastrami on toast. I may have been a little distracted by that! Sometimes when I read a book very quickly I feel like I barely take it in, I get a sense of it but I really just don’t get to know the characters or care about them too much. This is what happened with The Loved One – I read it and enjoyed it and found it to be quite different to other books by Waugh that I’ve read this month – the voice is there but the subject matter is different. The humour is very dark (not surprising when a lot of it takes place in funeral homes) and the characters are all a bit despicable in their own way. This is the first of Waugh’s books that I have read which is wholly set abroad and this is indeed one of the central issues explored, that of the difference between the Brits and the Americans, both equally exposed to Waugh’s satirical observations and descriptions. Its subtitle is in fact An Anglo-American Tragedy so that is not that big of an observation on my part!

The descriptions of Americans focus on their consumerism, shown by the gaudy commercialism of funerals, the ads for peaches and the slogans used by Dennis and Aimée in their funereal workplaces. Added to this was something that Waugh just cannot resist – journalists and how they influence people’s lives. Aimée writes to an agony uncle in a local newspaper when she is trying to make up her mind about her possible suitors – Mr Joyboy (the skilled mortician of Whispering Glades). Even when she does not wish her letters to be printed in the problem page, she still appeals to them for answers to her personal predicament, taking their advice as gospel and following it, which has tragic consequences. When her heart is broken this is not seen as particularly noteworthy as “it was a small inexpensive organ of local manufacture”, another commodity to be traded and disregarded.

What also stood out for me was this sense of the effect the Wars had on the characters, something that I had also felt when reading A Handful of Dust. Dennis seems quite apathetic to everything that goes on around him, even the cremations that he performs on a daily basis, highlighted perfectly by this quote after finding his friend dead:

“Dennis was a young man of sensibility rather than of sentiment. He had lived his twenty-eight years at arm’s length from violence, but he came of a generation which enjoys a vicarious intimacy with death. Never, it so happened, had he seen a human corpse until that morning when, returning tired from night duty, he found his host strung to the rafters. The spectacle had been rude and momentarily unnerving; but his reason accepted the event as part of the established order.”

This proximity to the horrors of the Wars results in a numbness, and an inability to really feel much sympathy for anyone or anything, in stark contrast to the portrayal to his customers that he cares about their loss. This was a funny little book, and if you like your humour dark and beyond the pale then this may be just the ticket for you, it was something a bit more light-hearted to end my month on!

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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.

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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!


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