A Handful Of Dust – Evelyn Waugh

I do not like sad stories. And yet I will pick up a book with such a title that screams ‘tragedy’.The words ‘a handful of dust’ convey to me a feeling of hopelessness and futility and nothing even remotely happy. But  then, I had never read a book by Evelyn Waugh and wanted to try a new author in the classics genre.

A friend once told me that it was not necessary to ‘understand’ modern art like a pro but if you saw the painting when you closed your eyes and it popped into your mind at most unexpected moments then maybe the painter has done what he set out to do. He has created work that pierced your sub-conscious and made itself heard even if you don’t ‘understand’ it per se. Well, maybe the same can be said about some books. Like this one. I despise the tragedy of it and yet was absolutely unable to get  the pathos of the man out of my head. And yes, it does pop into my head at the most inopportune moments to darken a sunny day.

The story revolves around Anthony and Brenda Last. Tony whose head is always filled with the problem of maintaining his family home which he loves to distraction and Brenda who is bored with her life in the country and the huge ugly house. Their son was an absolute darling until he dies and then there was just nothing to smile about in the whole book. It is impossible not to feel your heart squeezing in your chest for Tony as life throws one curve ball after another at him. Some would say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and what happened to him; the dissolution of his marriage, the loss of a child, the absolute indifference of a spouse, was nothing more than what happens in less privileged homes all over the world and so there is no need for any kind of special sympathy for him. And yet, he was not a malicious or unnecessarily cruel person. He was a simple, country clod in most respects with the best intentions about life. And his end though such an imaginative one was the biggest tragedy of all. The author made sure that as you moved on in the book you kept rooting for Tony, to let life give him one break. His home is eventually taken over by distant cousins who are determined to make it a profitable estate again.

Yes, the book must be read, at least once.


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