Friday, 26 January 2018

A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it's an old favourite of mine, without doubt in my all time top ten. I took it out for another re-read and just wanted to share its brilliance with you.

Genre: 1930s drama, about love, loss, social climbing... funny, tragic and poignant.

Both written and set in the early 1930s, this wonderful novel shows a world that scarcely exists anymore.  Tony Last and his wife Brenda live at the Last family seat, Hetton Hall.  Theirs is a world of guests coming up to the country for the weekend, of running a house on a full staff at a time when the age of huge country houses is coming to an end.  Tony wants only to live the life of a quiet gentleman, but Brenda yearns for the social life she once enjoyed in London. 

On one particular weekend Tony forgets that, over a drink at one of his clubs in London, he invited a young man called John Beaver to stay.  Although Beaver's visit is not welcomed by either of the Lasts, Brenda finds him oddly enchanting.

Beaver is an impoverished social climber who lives with his mother, a busy-body interior designer.  Anxious to improve his position in Society, he accepts any invitation going.  When Brenda falls in love with him he sees a way to push himself forward.  Under the pretence of doing a course in economics, Brenda takes a small flat in London, leaving Tony in the country, unhappy, alone, but completely in the dark about the affair.

Brenda and Beaver in the film that was made of the book; it's okay, but doesn't do it justice.

A family tragedy brings matters to a head, and both Brenda and Tony's worlds are forever changed, with Tony uncharacteristically heading off on a South American jungle expedition, simply because he does not know what else to do.

This book is such a delight.  Each social class is portrayed with great wit, from the impoverished aristocracy, to the socially ambitious, to the young women of the night to be found in the 'lousy joint' that Tony and his friend Jock visit on occasion.  It's a cracking story, with far more to it than just a broken marriage, but I also loved the more subtle elements, such as the passages that show Tony's love for his home, the only place he wants to be.  You will love Tony and want to cry with him for the way he is treated, though he does exact certain justified revenge.  It's a perfect book, and everyone who appreciates fine, gently satirical literature of this time should read it.

Tony with his and Brenda's son, John Andrew


  1. I missed this in my teen days when I was devouring literature for my degree. I shall HAVE to read it now!