“A Handful of Dust” by Evelyn Waugh was a really weird book. It was the Wall Street Journal Book Club book a few weeks ago, and it was really weird. I’m not even sure what else I would say about the book beyond that. There were a few parts of the book that I found amusing, such as this quote: “I like just to curl up like a cat in front of the fire, and if you’re nice to me I’ll purr, and if you’re cruel I shall pretend not to notice – just like a cat.” (A Handful of Dust, pg 114). I just thought this was an amusing declaration.
At the beginning of “A Handful of Dust” we meet Beaver, a sad guy that no one really seems to like. At first, I felt bad for him, but that dissolved rather quickly. He is the kind of guy that doesn’t get invited to many events or social gatherings, so he invites himself. One day, he invites himself to Tony Last’s house for the weekend and this is where he meets Brenda, Tony’s wife. Tony spent as much of the weekend as possible away from Beaver leaving Brenda the responsibility to entertain him. I thought it was strange how often Tony Last avoided his hosting duties. It was true that he hadn’t really invited Beaver to stay with them at all, but his disinterest in everyone around him made it really challenging to feel bad when his wife started having an affair with Beaver. I felt like saying, well, what do you expect? Not that I think that cheating is acceptable under any circumstance, but I can understand why Brenda strayed. What I can’t imagine is why she married him in the first place.
Brenda and Beaver started seeing more and more of each other: “And Beaver, for the first time in his life, found himself a person of interest and, almost of consequence. Women studied him with a new scrutiny, wondering what they had missed in him; men treated him as an equal, even as a successful fellow competitor.” (A Handful of Dust, pg 76). Beaver definitely benefited from the affair, and Brenda got some excitement in her life. The book kind of just went along like that and then there was an event that made me realize this book is on the darker side. It is a satirical comedy, but there are some very dark things that the book deals with. On the off chance you may read this book, I’m not going to reveal what those things were.
Would I recommend this book? Probably not. The writing was good, and the story was interesting, and really weird. But I didn’t feel any sort of connection with any of the characters and, in my opinion, reading a book without that becomes more of a chore than anything else. I was indifferent to “A Handful of Dust”. I don’t wish it any harm, but I don’t feel like my life is any better or worse for having read it – which isn’t a great endorsement. I’m sure there are some people that would wholeheartedly disagree with me, it did get picked for the WSJ Book Club, but I did not find myself enjoying it all that much.