A Handful of Dust

by Evelyn Waugh
List(s):"Racine Library List"
Category: "Fiction - General"
Year of Publication:1934
Date Added:08/12/2006
Date Read:12/12/2005
Notes:A satire of that stratum of English life where all the characters have money, but lack practically every other credential. Murderously urbane, it depicts the breakup of a marriage in the London gentry, where the errant wife suffers from terminal boredom and becomes enamored of a social parasite and professional lunch-goer.
My Rating: 7

Reviews for A Handful of Dust

Review - A Handful of Dust

Tony and Brenda Last lived the life of the idle rich on Tony’s ancestral estate, although they had to live frugally to afford it. Tony offered an off-hand invitation to a London acquaintance, John Beaver, and to his disgust, Beaver accepted it. During the weekend, Tony spent as much time away from the house as he could and let Brenda entertain the guest. Brenda was strangely attracted to the dissolute young man and soon began an affair with him.

Things went on in this way for some time. Brenda took a flat in London, telling Tony that she was taking a course in economics. She tried to get Tony interested in some girl, but it didn’t take. Then their eight-year-old son, John, was killed in a riding accident. For Brenda, this severed her last tie to Tony and she announced that she wanted a divorce. Tony agreed and planned to set himself up as the guilty party by inviting a dance-hall girl named Milly to spend a weekend with him at the sea, complete with detectives and so forth to make it look good. Milly brought along her daughter.

But when Tony discovered that Brenda intended to ask for so much alimony that he would have to give up his estate, he balked. He pointed out the presence of Milly’s daughter at the seashore weekend, refused the divorce and took off on a cruise. He met an explorer, Dr. Messinger, who was searching for a lost city in Brazil and joined the expedition. Their Indian guides ran out on them on the border of the neighboring tribe’s land. The two men went on alone. Tony came down with a fever and was stuck in camp. Messinger went on alone and died in a waterfall. Tony wandered through the jungle and happened upon the hut of Mr. Todd, an illiterate, half-English man who liked to be read to from Dickens. He nursed Tony back to health, then refused to let him leave. Tony got out word, but when the search party came looking for him, Todd drugged him and hid him in a native hut. He gave the search party evidence of Tony’s death.

When word of Tony’s death reached England, Brenda married Tony’s best friend (Beaver having long ago ditched her to America). The estate went to Tony’s relatives. And Tony is stuck forever reading Dickens’ novels in the Brazilian jungle.

A satirical novel making fun of upper-class British life between the world wars. There were some genuine laughs along the way and a lot of ludicrous scenes. The whole bit about setting up the divorce with Milly was hilarious. I suppose I’m not familiar enough with the culture to have gotten all the satire, but it was a very quick, funny read.
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