Monday, 6 April 2009

First post...the post that hurts the most

Only avid Mighty Boosh fans will appreciate that title, but I couldn't resist!

So, time to get this blog-show on the road and start posting! I've decided it is probably best to do a review whilse it is still fresh in my head, that being Evelyn Waugh's 'A Handful of Dust'.

Not that it is necessarily a bad thing, but this book took some real concentration to get to grips with; firstly - I should probably have been aware of this already - but the fact that 'Evelyn' is in fact a man, which I'm gave a different perspective to the text than if I had continued to think a woman had written it. And then, the opening pages were about as welcoming to outsiders as the society portrayed in the pages within, but - once you're in - the satiric world Waugh creates is fascinating and unforgivingly detached.

You are thrust into a world of cold, immoral people, where appearance is everything, indulgence the way of life, and gossip is rife. As satire is Waugh's speciality, there is a mixture of disgust and humour in relation to how the English upper class think and behave; females are put at fault in particular. The once peaceful life of Tony and Brenda Last, living on their apparently distastefully decorated estate, is disrupted into chaos after the introduction of the somewhat gormless Mr Beaver - disliked by everyone in his and the Last's social circles. This affair brings delight to acquaintances as it fuels their need for gossip; there is no sense that it is deceitful or wrong. Even Brenda who appears as the dutiful, yet disillusioned, wife, does not display any sense of remorse but instead tries to set Tony up with an extra-marital relationship of his own. Tony is one of the few characters who seems to have a 'normal' set of values; he will not commit adultery because he loves Brenda, he does not want to attend the exclusive parties in London, or spend time with the materialistic and vacuous people who will be there. When his honest wishes of living with his family in the inherited estate that he loves are set against Brenda's confused and empty want of excitement, parties, and luxury, the ridiculous nature of materialism is starkly highlighted.

What Waugh does excellently is characterisation; each person has their own quirks in their speech and habits, such as 'The Shameless Blonde' and her need to play 'patience' whenever she has a spare minute, Mrs Beaver's relation of every situation to what furniture and decoration she could provide for it. Little John Last is perhaps the most endearing, as he copies the bad language of his working class horse trainer, Ben, and repeats it in the worst situations. He also has a charm for taking everything literally, which is refreshing in such a twisted society where there is no honesty and nothing is quite as it seems.

So, one is drifting through this fake world of scandal and hypocrisy, when there is suddenly a burst of rather odd action, following young John's death. Divorce, staged affairs, and a random trip following Tony to Dutch Guana follows, twisting the novel on its head and completely changing its focus. While, as a reader, you cannot complain that the novel is predictable, you are definitely left pining for some sort of resolution. But then, perhaps that is the point Waugh is trying to convey; even in this most civilized of societies people think they have created, there is not really any order, and any power one thinks they have over the course of their lives is merely an illusion constructed by this society.

I suppose what I'm saying, is that it is most definitely an interesting read, but I can definitely understand the contraversy surrounding Waugh - some say he is a literary genius and some find his work ridiculous. Admittedly in the boring position of sitting on the fence, I tend to swing between the two; in this work, anyway, it is as though he has surges of brilliance - like John's death, which then seem to lapse into the mediocre.

If I come across another of his books I will definitely give it a read, and hopefully it will help make up my mind.

As this is a review of sorts, how about a rating?

Evelyn Waugh, 'A Handful of Dust' - 3/5

No comments:

Post a Comment