Book: A Handful of Dust

Author: Evelyn Waugh

Rating: 3.5/5

A Handful of Dust-Evelyn Waugh

In the beginning the two main characters Tony and Brenda Last are an idyllic and seemingly content couple living a sedate country existence. But all is not well and the couple beginning to drift apart as Brenda rediscovers the joys of high society along with the romantic attentions of a young man. This leaves Tony increasingly isolated and despondent being left alone to watch over their young son in the family’s country mansion. Tension between the two grows steadily and a tragic event brings matters to a head and gives Brenda a route in which to finely escape the marriage to a perceived more exciting life. But an unexpected decision by Tony sees the novel take a twist and come to a conclusion that is entirely unexpected.

Social/Historical context:

The novel takes place in nineteen thirties London and its surrounding countryside for the majority of the story, but switches to a South American jungle location for the final chapter. The main characters are all of upper class English society and conform to most of the social characteristics for this era and set. The British Empire although not referred to in any detail plays a huge facilitating and shadowing role, being the creator and supporter of this class and style of person and their activities. But the decline of the empire in this decade is reflected in the financial issues the main characters face, in maintaining the level of lifestyle they have inherited, from past more prosperous generations. At one point Brenda comments upon the cost of the house they keep "we should be quite rich if it wasn't for that."

Writing Style:

The book is written in the third person and revolves mainly around the actions of the two main protagonists Tony and Brenda. The style of writing is straight forward, clear, and realistic. Good exchanges of conversation between the characters occur along with some intelligent observations. A satirical feel can be perceived throughout the novel and at times very serious issues and happenings are dealt with in a casual, calm and sometimes comical manner.

My Thoughts:

The novel overall is extremely enjoyable. The plot runs smoothly and exchanges between the characters are precise, intelligent and at times witty. The ending was an enjoyable surprise but for some it could compromise the feel of the main story line. Novelist Henry York wrote “the end is so fantastic it throws the rest out of proportion”. I agree with this observation to a point, but for me it did not ruin and probably added to this absorbing and entertaining read.

Book Reviewed by Philip

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