A Handful of Dust
by Evelyn Waugh
My reviewrating: 3 of 5 stars
(This review is also posted at Amazon.com)
For the uninitiated, Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was a man. Today, he is probably best known for his novel Brideshead Revisited, due to the popularity of a 1981 TV mini series adaptation.
Evelyn Waugh (from Evelyn Waugh Newsletter)
His novel A Handful of Dust is a comedy of manners, even a farce, for the first four chapters. Tony Last is devoted to his estate Hetton, with its Victorian Gothic monstrosity of a mansion. His shallow wife Brenda has an affair with John Beaver, a cash-strapped momma’s boy. The cuckolded Tony becomes aware of the affair only after the death of their son in a riding accident, when he receives a message from Brenda that she’s going to marry Beaver.
The main conflict is between Tony and his devotion to Hetton (three of the chapters are titled English Gothic) on one hand and Brenda on the other. Aside from being Brenda’s paramour, Beaver’s role is incidental.
Brenda makes demands in their divorce case that would compel Tony to sell Hetton. Tony will not acquiesce to her demands, and goes on an expedition to Brazil. He tells Brenda’s brother that, upon his return to England, he will divorce Brenda without settlements.
A Handful of Dust takes a dramatic turn beginning with Chapter 5, In Search of a City, when Tony leaves England for Brazil. The pace picks up rapidly, and there is menace and doom as Tony makes his way through the jungles of Brazil with his traveling companion Dr. Messinger. The novel ends with startling turns in the fates of Brenda, Tony, and his beloved Hetton.
A Handful of Dust was slow going and didn’t engage me until Chapter 5. There were times I put it aside. I’m glad that I held on to read the surprising ending.
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