A brand new bookshelf courtesy of B & Q means that we can finally begin to transfer the crates of books over from the bf’s parents’ house that have been languishing there gathering dust for the last two years. (Yes two!) Although my enthusiasm I understand should be entirely focused on the fact that my beloved now has room to have almost all of his possessions in his own home and a special reading corner of his very own, it is of course completely selfish as I have seen at least twenty books already, many of them classics I still have not got around to reading, that I would like to get my teeth stuck into.
Living his life as a flâneur (a professional loafer or ‘stroller’ if you will) whilst we were living in Paris, the bf had a great deal of time to improve his culinary skills, knowledge of Parisian backwaters and, most vexing of all, his literary repertoire. The classics many of us promise ourselves we will get around to reading and never do were probably given the most attention during this period and both of us spent many a happy afternoon in the park with our noses buried deep in the likes of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (rather apt at the time) and the works of Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. Now, and I may be shot down by many for confessing to this, but I never have been able to fully ‘get along’ with the writings of the latter two authors, although their absolute literary mastery I certainly would never doubt. Although it may sound odd, they are two authors, along with the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Joseph Conrad, that have always seemed rather masculine in their appeal, whether that be due to the style of their writing or the subject matter they choose to address.
With that in mind, and after once attempting and failing to read Waugh’s Scoop all the way through (upon reflection I think this failure was perhaps due to my state of mind at the time, I simply wasn’t in the mood to appreciate that kind of satirical offering) when an early Penguin edition of A Handful of Dust was thrust upon me with great enthusiasm I have to admit that apart from the classic orange border with the title sitting in simple bold type in the centre (fantastic!)….. I wasn’t overly enthralled.
I will eat my words. Unlike a Yorkie, Evelyn Waugh is definitely here for both us girls and the boys. Yet another satirical tale, focused on the English gentry and the breakdown of the marriage of Tony and Brenda Last; the former a rather traditional sort of chap, absolutely intent on maintaining his rather uneventful yet settled life in his family home and the latter a rather more restless sort whose flight off to London and affair with the feckless John Beaver eventually leads to their separation, a situation encouraged by a number of other unfortunate circumstances that I won’t detail here for fear of spoiling the book for anyone reading this.
Waugh’s characterisation of poor Tony Last and his relatively simple wants and needs; i.e. to be comfortable in his home spending time quietly with his small family contrasted with Brenda’s screeching shallow ‘society’ friends is highly effective and left me taking sides and chuntering to myself throughout the novel at this woman’s stupidity at leaving such a decent man behind on a simple whim. The dull, vacuous John Beaver who she decides to run away with only adds to the frustration in the first half of the novel.
The final portion of the book deals with Tony’s escape from his situation at home as he travels to Brazil with the seasoned explorer and academic Dr Messinger. Helped along by the stark contrast between the jungles of the Southern Hemisphere and the rolling English countryside, this section of the book is characterised by the overpowering sense of danger and delirium as Tony is gripped by a tropical fever which leads us through his journey in the jungle and tense encounters with the natives.
I can say no more for fear of revealing the utterly genius and terrifying final chapters of this book, which is, need I say it, an absolute must read. The surprise twist in the tale that comes with Tony’s trip abroad is highly unexpected and lends something particularly special to this book. The best thing about it all is that I now have an itching desire to read the rest of Waugh’s work, the majority of which have been collected and popped in the TBR pile …….. soon to be dug out I think!