A Handful of Dust

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
Publisher: Chapman & Hall
Released: January 1, 1934
Pages: 308
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Laced with cynicism and truth, "A Handful of Dust" satirizes a certain stratum of English life where all the characters have wealth, 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 enamoured of a social parasite and professional luncheon-goer.

Reading the first few pages of A Handful of Dust it quickly becomes obvious that this is going to be a standard, reliably funny, amusingly overdone story involving British caricatures of the 30s. And it is. But it really isn’t. Sort of.

While the story kind of is all of those things, they serve as a backdrop and an excuse to drag the story in a number of directions. It goes a bit further in all of those directions than it needs to, but not quite far enough to overreach itself. It somehow manages to incorporate a number of rather significant plot-twists which don’t seem like twists at all, but just elements of the rather solid underlying story of a wife having fallen out of love with her husband, and the amusing/funny/sad/tragic events that follow on from that. While the story at times gets rather dramatic and immersive, the overall, somewhat detached, tone suggests that the events are pretty much insignificant and entirely irrelevant to anyone but those directly involved. This also seems to be a point made in the endings (two of which were kindly provided in the edition I read, neither of which I liked that much).

The book has some really good moments, and it has many of them. Among other things it has the best few pages of fever-induced delirium I have read in a while. The sheer number of those notable moments makes this a very good book. I fully understand why it is considered to be a special and notable piece of literature. I just didn’t think it was as exceptional or as best-book-ever’y as it is made out to be.

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