The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
Posted by Amanda on April 3, 2009
Waugh is one of those classic authors I have heard quite a bit about, even before the recent remake of his most famous book, Brideshead Revisited. I have heard many people say he was a great author, though I can’t seem to remember who any of them were. Anyway, many of his books are also on the Guardian list and so when I saw The Loved One in the used book store my grandmother loves so much, I figured ‘why not?’
The Loved One… Well, I find it difficult to say what this book is about. I suppose the plot mainly revolves around Dennis Barlow, a young Brit who aspires to be a poet but has not been able to write since he arrived in Hollywood. Now, he has taken a job at the Happy Hunting Grounds, a place where you can have your dearly departed pet buried in proper fashion, with a coffin and a minister and all the trappings. When Dennis’s friend commits suicide after losing his job at a production studio, Dennis finds himself at Whispering Glades, a funeral parlour catering to the wealthy, and meets Aimee, a cosmetician he becomes interested in.
I am not really sure how to approach this book. It was well-written and darkly humerous but rather odd. Whispering Glades is practically a monument to death and several of the people who work there seem to be fascinated with the place, far beyond the normal feelings toward a job. I couldn’t really identify with a couple of the characters. Further, there were abrupt jolts in time – for several chapters, we are closely following Dennis as he prepares for the funeral of his friend and suddenly, we are six weeks past the funeral. I suppose part of my hesitation regarding this book is the manner in which it ends. It is rather like going on a journey and when you get to the end, you look back at where you’ve been and wonder how you got there and what the point was. Not exactly like that but I just have the sense of “wait – what just happened here?”
I hope you don’t take this to mean that I disliked the book. I am just unsure of what to think about it, which I suppose is okay. Then again, this has been happening a lot lately and so I wonder if I am looking too deeply into books for something that is not there to find in the first place. Either way, this was a decent classic – not the best I have ever read, but then have my partialities – and I will probably read more of Waugh before making any serious judgment regarding his work.