The Loved One

by Evelyn Waugh

A book group choice – one suspects, partly because of its length (under 200 pages).

It was a very enjoyable read.  Full of dark humour, satire, brilliantly drawn characters and a tacky but quite satisfying plot.  OK, the love story was hardly convincing – but necessary to the plot.

It’s hard to know what to write, really.  Waugh shows the US at its overblown worst, in his depiction of ageing Hollywood writers who are no longer flavour of the month, a funeral business in which the dead are invariably referred to as ‘loved ones’, and a cynical, drunken agony column journalist who inadvertently adds another ‘loved one’ to the collection.

The denouement is dark and very comical: the rivals Dennis Barlow and Mr Joyboy contrive to dispose of Aimée’s body together.

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Decline and Fall

by Evelyn Waugh

Selected by our book group.

I had previously read only one book by Waugh, Put out more Flags, and this was in fact lent to me by a book group member when his choice was not selected, a couple of years ago.

It took me a chapter or two to decide that I wanted to read Decline and Fall. Maybe because Paul Pennyfeather’s fate is just too awful to contemplate; or maybe because the grotesque description of public school life is shockingly real – whatever the reason, for my initial distaste, I forced myself to read on, and found myself delighting in Waugh’s sharp humour and precisely drawn characters.

The modernist architect Silenus’ categorisation of people into ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ types allows this character – and perhaps others in the novel – to ignore every moral code. Certainly I feel that Paul’s unquestioning acceptance of the injustices that are done him shows him as passive, if not exactly static. But does this excuse the perpetrators of those injustices? Surely not.

There is plenty more I could say, but before I do, I intend to listen to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s In our time which  deals with this novel, and which I have downloaded.