Review: A Handful of Dust

Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust

This novel, set mainly among the leisured class of 1930s England, follows a small group of social acquaintances and sheds light on their shallow approach to life. Brenda Last is married to Tony, a traditional English gentleman who is devoted to preserving his estate. Bored and lonely in the country, Brenda decides to spend more time in London. She soon enters into an affair with John Beaver, an idle young man with no job and not much money, whose greatest talent is lunching at other people’s expense. Tony is oblivious to what’s going on until a shocking tragedy forces his failing marriage into the limelight. As the Lasts try to cope with the fallout from Brenda’s infidelity, they both hope that striking out on their own will bring them happiness, but their efforts are ultimately doomed to failure.

I’m the kind of person who tends to enjoy books with happy endings and likable protagonists. I figure, why read a book that’s just going to depress you? But this book is the antithesis of the qualities I just mentioned, and I still thought it was excellent. Most of the main characters are horrible, odious people, but they’re like a train wreck that I couldn’t look away from. I did sympathize with Tony quite a bit, especially because of one truly heinous thing that Brenda said (don’t want to spoil, so unfortunately I can’t be specific). The whole time, I was hoping that things would somehow work out in the end, even though I knew it was extremely unlikely. I’m also a fan of Waugh’s writing style: he mocks his characters mercilessly, but you can’t really fault him for it because they truly deserve it! So I would definitely recommend this book to fans of classic literature, even those who prefer more lighthearted literature.

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