A Handful of Dust
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A Handful of Dust

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  12,282 ratings  ·  608 reviews
Laced with cynicism and truth, "A Handful of Dust" satirizes a certain 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 enamoured of a social parasite and professional lunche...more
Paperback, 308 pages
Published November 30th 1977 by Back Bay Books (first published 1934)
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David
For those of you who live cloistered in a medieval turret of moral purity and use the interwebs only for researching your medical ailments (and, oh -- of course, researching books as well), you may or may not be interested to know that there is a 'cuckolding' porn genre. The interesting detail about this isn't that there is a particular subset of video pornography dealing with spouses cheating on each other -- because when you consider some of the very specific porn specialty niches (biracial pa...more
Julie
Reading Waugh is like being air-kissed by a socialite who clutches your shoulder in mock affection with one hand while raising an ice-pick behind your back with the other. You know you should be on guard for certain disaster, but charisma sweeps you away in an intoxicating wave of champagne and caviar.

Waugh wrote with scathing irony of the plight of English gentry between the two world wars. Sinking into debt and irrelevancy in the wake of the Depression, these bored and bigoted hyphenated lord...more
Jeannette
How to rate this book? I’m really not sure.

The book starts out, to me, in typical Waugh fashion. Tony Last has his feet planted firmly in the past, clinging devotedly to the Gothic monstrosity that is the family’s country estate of Hetton. This is his life, and he plans to maintain it for future generations, as it was maintained for him. His wife, Brenda, seems content with the quiet country life, until she meets Mr. Beaver, a rather useless, penniless sponger, whom she takes on. The story rolls...more
Maureen
cross-posted at booklikes and the mo-centric universe.

(this is an edit of a review from 2009)

i found this to be much, much better than the two other waugh books i read: vile bodies, and the loved one. i would have liked it immensely had it ended about three quarters in, as stopping there would have satisfied my need for comeuppance for jerks but that comeuppance never came. the last quarter of the book seems almost a sequel to the first part, and left a darkness in its wake.

and yet, from what...more
Trevor
I don’t know why I thought this was going to be a comedy, but I did think that when I started. The problem might have been the title, the clear allusion to Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems - you can only really be either ponderous or funny if you allude to The Waste Land and I just suspected that this would be funny. And then it starts with a character who is on the outskirts of polite society – not unlike the main character in Waugh’s first novel Decline And Fall, and well, it just made...more
F.R.
This satire from the 1930s is – as one would expect from Waugh – sharp, clever and merciless to its targets; although by the end it has veered off to some odd places, which might strengthen its impact, or may just prove to dark for some readers. Much like his excellent ‘Vile Bodies’, Waugh takes us to a distinctly Wodehouse-esque universe of aristocrats and bright young things. And yet this doesn’t have the exuberance of that earlier book, instead venturing to areas far crueller and colder. I re...more
James
May 23, 2009 James rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: humor
Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, on several end-of-century Top 100 lists,was published on September 3, 1934. Waugh took the title for his novel from a line in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land — “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” In Brideshead Revisited, Waugh returned to the same poem, sending Anthony Blanche out on an Oxford balcony to stutter a few lines from it. Waugh’s biographers have noted a particular connection to Eliot. Early in life, Waugh liked to associate himself with Eliot’s...more
Jim
I see that I have classified A Handful of Dust as "humor." It is, a sort of bright, brittle, mirthless humor that looks at the sea of human relationships and sees them dissolve in the great wastes that surround and lay beyond a seemingly humdrum life.

Tony and Brenda Last live in the country. Back when Tony was wooing Brenda, they went out to parties and were bright young things who seemed to lead a charmed life. Tony was equally wedded to his family's country estate, Hetton. Brenda becomes so bo...more
Christopher
Oh I hate this book--but in a good way. It was one long descent into a world without meaning. A beautifully depressing tale that I struggle to extricate myself from. I feel entwined somehow in the struggle between the sacred life Tony lives of decorum, nobles oblige, and preservation of family heritage and the profane drive to detach from the nonsense of the past. But the characters in this book seem only to exchange it for vapid modern existence. Is there no middle ground?

I've rehearsed over an...more
Steve


When I encountered Gore Vidal's statement that Evelyn Waugh was "our time's first satirist," I took him to mean our times best satirist. He could have intended nothing other.

Waugh's target in this novel is the English upper class, their attitudes, mores, shallowness, narrow self-centeredness, and on. . .and on. How can we characterize the nature of Waugh's satire? Blistering. Caustic. And utterly delightful.

The British upper class was not his only target, of course. In his other novels he lays i...more
Jennifer
Nov 21, 2008 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: adults
I have had this book on my shelves since I finished Brideshead Revisited three years ago. I really do enjoy Waugh's writing and his observations of life in Britain of the 20s/30's...He is especially gifted at creating characthers (good, bad and ugly) that you are drawn to and can understand. His characters that are children are especially amusing because they are so "real." I can just hear my kids saying the same things and acting the same way...This book was about the disintegration of a marria...more
Michael
What delicious fun! This book is usually called a satire, by which it seems to be meant that Waugh disliked almost all the characters and usually selected the nasty option for their actions in the story. That is not normally my cup of tea, but he was so extremely good at it. So, a slightly naughty reading pleasure, I suppose -- had me laughing aloud numerous times. An enjoyable response that doesn't happen often anymore! The plot takes an odd turn as the book approaches its end, but that proved...more
Lorenzo Berardi
- Have got out of dinner 16th. Are you still free?
- Delighted. Second thoughts always best. Brenda.

This short interchange via telegrams between Mr Beaver and "her ladyship" Brenda Last may be considered the turning point of this novel, written in 1934.

While reading this passage, it occurred to me that the same thrust and counter-thrust may have happened today, via textings.
Don't you think so?
Sure, a present-day Mrs Last would have texted "2nd thoughts" while a contemporary Beaver -being just...more
Ellie
This is a dark and savage satire on British society in the 30's;

"It was, transparently, a made-up party, the guests being chosen for no mutual bond—least of all affection for Mrs. Beaver or for each other—except that their names were in current use . . ." p. 51

Waugh is not afraid to attack, and unlike some of his other books, A handful of dust has a much more savage and bitter feel. There is less of the frothy language and light gentle almost poking fun in an affectionate way of some of his othe...more
Skylar Burris
It is appropriate that Waugh should allude to "The Waste Land," since A Handful of Dust is itself a satirical expose of the moral waste land that is modern society, a world drifting without the anchor of religion and tradition. But Waugh’s message is communicated both gradually and subtly, and with great wit. He seems always to select the perfect turn of phrase, and he creates extremely amusing and original situations. Take, for instance, the sad case of Tony Last, who, delirious with fever, wan...more
Max
Jun 28, 2013 Max rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: modern
Engaging and pleasurable. Many books detailing the give and take of upscale English society become as tedious as their subject matter. Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited did little for me, but his deft wit and style in A Handful of Dust make this book a winner.

The characters elicit your emotions and you find yourself caring – wanting to shake Tony out of his blind stupor or just shake Brenda and her friends for being such twits. The episode of Tony in the jungle is an ingenious and apt finish to the...more
Pris robichaud

As Good As it Gets: Surreal, Amoral, Aristocratic Decadence , 29 Jul 2007



"And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du? "
The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot 1922

Evelyn Waugh has given us a dark, witty, satirical novel that takes aim at the post World War I upper class society. His writing is biting...more
Stela
I'd say the contrast between appearance and essence is the main theme of this intriguing book, if I could find any depth in the characters that seem marionettes, navigating through life guided by the string of their basic desires barely dissimulated by social conventions.
No moral code, no humanity, no understanding, only indifference for the others' feelings and appalling gestures that pay tribute to the moment's desires: a wife so bored that commits adultery with a "dreary young man" and shows...more
Helle
Talk about bleak satire and cynicism! I read – and loved – Brideshead Revisited years ago, and once again we’re among the English upper classes, whom Waugh mocks more or less constantly throughout the novel, which is especially apparent in some of the ludicrous but funny dialogues.

Some of the characters are ridiculous (Princess Jenny Akbar, Mr. Beaver, ‘Mumsy’) , some are indifferent/oblivious to people around them (Tony), some are utterly selfish (Brenda), and most of the characters exhibit a...more
Robert Beveridge
Now I know where Martin Amis got his writing style from. "Pastoral" would be a kind word to describe this work, as weirdly absorbing as it becomes. The basic premise mirrors that of many comedies of manners from around its time; wife takes apartment in the city and takes a lover, leaving the hapless husband at home. Wife feels guilty. Wife attempts to set husband up with a lover. Husband is oblivious. The repercussions are immense.

I got the feeling that Waugh was trying too hard at the beginning...more
Glimmerfee
Brenda beginnt sich in ihrer Ehe und dem veralteten Herrenhaus zu langweilen. Es dauert nicht lange und sie beginnt eine Affäre. Ihr Mann Tony ist ein bodenständiger Mensch, der seiner Frau völlig vertraut und den Sinn seines Lebens darin sieht, seinen Besitz zu erhalten. Das Schicksal schlägt zu und Tony verliert seine Frau an seinen nichtsnutzigen Konkurrenten.

Der Autor hat in diesem Roman das eigene Scheitern seiner Ehe verarbeitet. Geschildert wird das immer in festen Bahnen verlaufende gese...more
Amy
If you're familiar with Waugh's writing, this story will follow a frequent pattern he uses: things are very recognizable and conventional as the story sets out, and then they almost imperceptibly begin to unwind.

We start A Handful of Dust in London and find ourselves in the Amazonas region of Brazil toward the end, delirious with jungle fever and seeing things which are not there. We witness the rapid fall of an ancient family between the wars, when the modern overtook the traditional with a ti...more
Ryan
I've heard before that Waugh was a satirist, and "A Handful of Dust" does have some amount of satire in it. The story is mostly about the disintegrating marriage of Tony and Brenda Last after Brenda has an affair with the village bore, Mr. Beaver. There's a section wherein Tony attempts to fake an affair to get grounds for a divorce (Brenda's own affair not being enough, apparently). There's a section where Tony goes to Brazil, gets a fever, and hallucinates. Everything else is mostly realistic...more
Jessica
A Handful of Dust is the story of a marriage going sour. Tony and Brenda Last drift apart slowly at first, and then quickly as Brenda takes first a lover and then a flat in London, hardly spending any time at the family estate. Waugh's delightful wit and subtle absurdities keep the reader smiling even as he throws tragedy into the plot and drives Brenda and Tony irreparably apart.

The book takes a bizarre twist at the end, which I won't go into so as to preserve its novelty for future readers, bu...more
Dfordoom
As you’d expect from Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust is a very funny novel. But this is very black comedy. Written in 1934, this is a biting and at times quite cruel satire on the aimless, bored, empty and hedonistic and lifestyles of the upper classes and their hangers-on. The Depression has hit so many are feeling the pinch, including Tony Last as he tries desperately to hold on to the crumbling gothic pile that he loves so much. Meanwhile his wife, Lady Brenda, is bored. So bored that she sta...more
David
A Handful of Dust Evelyn Waugh (1934) #34

May 26, 2007

I want to say first off that I absolutely blazed through this book; so many of its nuances have eluded me. I also have just finished reading it, so I haven’t had time to process this one yet. Maybe I should wait a little before I do these. Oh well.
Again, my foolish prejudices left me hating this book before I even opened it. I really shouldn’t read any of the jackets and all that. Come on, “A brilliant satirical study of the eccentric betwe...more
Ayu Palar
A Handful of Dust tells about the marriage life of Anthony and Brenda Last. They live happily as a couple in a huge country house named Hetton, but suddenly a young man named John Beaver interrupts their normal days. As you can guess, there’s an affair between the wife and the young man. Sounds ordinary for a high class writer like Evelyn Waugh? I don’t think so, because the strength of this novel is its strange tone. It could be tragic but at the same time, it could be hilarious. For me, I didn...more
Jodi
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this book. I went in knowing very little about the novel except that it was on the Modern Library's Top 100 Novels, which I am currently making my way through. I haven't enjoyed a book on this list quite so much in years and read it faster than any other, with the possible exception of Slaughterhouse-Five. I invariably read at least three books at a time and usually alternate between them to stave off boredom, but I never found myself wanting to rea...more
Steven
It isn't very often that a novel makes me gasp while I'm reading it, but that's what happened when I saw Brenda Last's reaction to a death in the family. A Handful of Dust is a cruelly observant, clinically precise chronicle of the dissolution of an upper-crust marriage in 1930s England. Toby Last is a toff obsessed with the maintenance of Hetton Abbey, his family's unfashionable estate. Brenda Last, unable to tolerate the isolation and boredom of Toby's life, falls into an affair that sets the...more
Lorri Steinbacher
Recently rewatched Brideshead Revisited and got to jonesing for some Waugh. Waugh revisits a number of themes and ideas in this novel, but manages to give them a new twist. I will say that I did not find Brenda Last's descent into adultery quite convincing, and John Beaver hardly a worthy or compelling partner, I suppose that was the point. Boredom & ennui making even John Beaver seem like a good distraction. The endings were interesting. Personally, I liked the alternate ending better (the...more
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The Modern Librar...: * A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh 5 20 Jul 14, 2014 06:10PM  
Bright Young Things: A Handful of Dust - more greatness from Waugh 40 26 Sep 03, 2013 05:15PM  
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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book “The Loom of Youth” (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, “…the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al...more
More about Evelyn Waugh...
Brideshead Revisited Scoop Vile Bodies The Loved One Decline and Fall

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