Saturday, 9 June 2012

Book #55 A Handful Of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

A Handful Of Dust

Given that 'A Handful Of Dust' takes its title from the line 'I will show you fear in a handful of dust' from TS Eliot's the Waste Land, I anticipated that the novel would be somehow a psychological thriller.

Instead A Handful Of Dust is a black comedy novel about Brenda and Tony Last who live comfortably in Tony's ancestral home with their son John Andrew, they are part of wider High Society and both receive parties of visitors and attend parties elsewhere.

Brenda, who has become bored engages in a dalliance with a young man, apparently something that many women of her status have been known to do, but when things go too far their ordinary life is shattered.

The back of my copy states that the reader doesn't know whose side Waugh is on, but to my mind it was definitely Tony's, and Waugh sets out to paint a picture of women in society of that era, who can and do ruin men for the sake of it and get off unblemished. It's quite a modern outlook if you consider that the maxim in most divorces is that "the woman gets the lot".

A Handful Of Dust is often funny with plenty of darkly comic moments, such as when Tony, who is innocent of wrongdoing attempts to be indiscreet to avoid a scandal for Brenda. Tony is a tragicomic long suffering figure, and several points are made about the imbalance in acceptable standards.

The end is one of the weirdest endings I have ever read in a novel. Truly bizarre. But, the ultimate message seems to promote the argument that men, rather than women are disposable as long as society at large is happy. Thought provoking. 7/10

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