The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh

I have to thank those of you who mentioned Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’ when I asked for books on Victoriana or death because without them The Converted One would never have ordered this book for me and I would have been missing out on a treat. In fact only hours ago Granny Savidge Reads was discussing what a ‘hoot’ she found this as a read. No it’s not a funny book about Victoriana but a rather wonderful and whimsical book about the business of death and one I would insist you all go out and read, even if you don’t think it’s a very you book.

As ‘The Loved One’ opened I wasn’t sure that I was going to get on with it too well. It had a group of pompous British expatriates discussing many things banal in the material heights of Los Angeles. It is here and in this company that Dennis Barlow, an English poet, has come to stay with his uncle Sir Francis and tried to make a name for himself. However Dennis hasn’t managed and instead finds himself reading books behind a desk at a rather unsuccessful pet’s funeral parlour and not really getting anywhere in life, though seemingly happy with his lot.

“Dennis was a young man of sensibility rather than of sentiment. He had lived his twenty-eight years at arm’s length from violence, but he came of a generation which enjoys a vicarious intimacy with death. Never, it so happened, had he seen a human corpse until that morning when, returning tired from night duty, he found his host strung to the rafters. The spectacle had been rude and momentarily unnerving; but his reason accepted the event as part of the established order.”

This isn’t set to last and in fact doesn’t as very early on Sir Francis is fired from his Hollywood job at Megalopolitan Studio’s and decides to take his own life, in doing so his nephew Dennis is left in charge of the funeral and ends up in the necropolis ‘Whispering Glades’ where death seems like a wonderful option and can have all the finest trimmings and sometimes come out looking better than you did when you were alive. “Why, if he’d sat on an atom bomb, they’d make him presentable.” That line and its delivery made me laugh for about ten minutes. It’s very dark humour with sprinklings of an almost campness throughout, or maybe just a wry smile throughout.

“A young lady rose from a group of her fellows to welcome him, one of the new race of exquisite, amiable, efficient young ladies whom he had met everywhere in the United States. She wore a white smock and over her sharply supported left breast was embroidered the words, Mortuary Hostess.
‘Can I help you in any way?’
‘I came to arrange about a funeral.’
‘Is it for yourself?’”

It is going through the rigmarole of funeral procedures and arrangements for his uncle that Dennis meets the beautiful Aimee Thanatogenos, a corpse cosmetician, and becomes besotted starting not only one of the funniest and slightly outrageous books I have had the good fortune of reading, but also the unlikeliest but most readable love triangles between Dennis, Aimee and an embalmer called Mr Joyboy that leads to a rather shock ending I wasn’t expecting.

“We had a Loved One last month who passed over with electrical cord. Even Mr Joyboy could do nothing with that. We had to wind a scarf right up to the chin. But suspenders should come out quite satisfactorily.”

I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future. In fact I am aiming to have a collection rather like this…

It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948. I am pretty sure that this is destined to be one of my favourite books of recent years and quite possibly will be heading into my top 40 along with Neil Bartlett’s dark gem ‘Skin Lane’ (I have been very lucky with some excellent reads of late). I think that Waugh is also an author that may become a favourite, this is nothing like ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and yet equally brilliant in its difference from it. Which way with Waugh next?


Filed under Books of 2010, Evelyn Waugh, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

45 responses to “The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh

  1. Sorry I haven’t stopped by for a while – been on my hols! I have not come across this Waugh at all. Definitely lesser known, and you’ve reminded me that I like Waugh. One of my favourites is Put out more flags, which I own in the lovely vintagey Penguin edition which you feature – they are such gorgeous covers.

    • Apologies for the late response to this (and all my comments this week) tis deadline week and that means I have had absolutely no life or time.

      This is a brilliant book Verity and if you love Waugh do give this one a try. I have about ten of his books in the covers above and have heard that I might now have this one arriving with this cover from a very kind reader so am thrilled.

      • Lucky you having so many of the Waugh’s in the beautiful editions. I think my Brideshead is in that edition too – must check… (have you seen the Channel 4 adaption of Brideshead – ahhhhhhhh wonderful!)

      • Debby

        If anyone is interested in buying my mom has this book with the original paper cover published by Chapman & Hall in Great Britain – looks like 1950 it was printed.

  2. So pleased that you enjoyed this, Simon; I thought it was wonderfully quirky and blackly humorous when I read it and must have a wee reread of it sometime soon (I have the quirky silver Penguin but had no idea the ones you have posted above existed!) I’ve only actually read A Handful of Dust, in addition to The Loved One, and really must read Waugh’s better-known work, starting with Decline and Fall, I think, as it sounds like a riot.

    • Thank you for being one of the people who recommended this and then got TCO to get me a copy. I am excited as I now have it coming with the covers I love too.

      I am not sure where I am going to go with Waugh next, I think Vile Bodies is meant to be brilliant, I am not sure though if I should therefore read that next or leave it until last?

  3. Rob

    Simon, you’re in for a reading treat if you haven’t read much Waugh. None I think are as broadly comic as The Loved One, but being a publishing man you should try Scoop. And then periodically read through them all – you won’t be disappointed. I always try and hunt down the classic orange Penguin editions but he’s been in print so long that you can pretty much read him in any design style you like.

    • Only the two so far Rob so I have quite a lot more of his work to go it would seem hee hee. I have Scoop and that may very well be one of the books of his that I go for next especially as its all about my field of work indeed.

      I dont know where I started collecting these orange ones from but I can’t stop and just can’t have one that doesnt match. It’s oviously something I need councilling about hee hee.

  4. gaskella

    This is my favourite Waugh, and makes it into my desert island books list. I must re-read it again soon.

  5. Wow, praise indeed! I’ll have to get this off the shelf. I loved this:

    ‘I came to arrange about a funeral.’
    ‘Is it for yourself?’”

    I’ve read Put Out More Flags (which is one of my all-time favourite titles) and Decline and Fall. As I said on an earlier post, both are a little too mean for me…

    • The humour in this book is brilliant Simon, its very Nancy Mitford in some ways so I wonder if it was a homag Jessica too after she wrote the book The American Way of Death, though only Nancy got the dedication.

      Put Out More Flags I will leave to savour I am probably going to read another Waugh very soon.

  6. Sounds like I have to read this. Have you read Scoop? You’d probably like it given your occupation.

    • I haven;t read Scoop yet Kim no but I am definitley planning on doing so and it may indeed be the next one of his I do read. Have you read it?

      Do read this one its utterly brilliant!

      • Yes, read it a few years ago… it was a selection for the online book group I used to run. It is very very funny. And I liked the references to a certain magazine (that shall remain nameless), whose editor I know.

  7. Oh, oh those covers are so beautiful. And, I can’t wait to read ‘The Shuttle’. I sense (yet) another trip to Persephone coming on…

  8. gracenotes34

    The Loved One is a great read. All the humorous Waugh I have read have made me laugh from beginning to end, and he is so perceptive about human beings.
    But my favourite of his is still the Sword of Honour Trilogy – I couldnt put any of them down – went from first to last very quickly. Again perceptive, also moving, and thought-provoking. And they have some lovely funny scenes too.

    • Oooooh whats the Sword of Honour trilogy, thats something I am going to have to look up and get cracking with, I will have to do it in order though I am a bit funny about that lol. I will go off and find out more about them shortly.

  9. The cover is gorgeous.

  10. This book does sound hilarious, though not one I would normally choose. I’ve added it to the wishlist!

    • Oh I am so pleased because its utterly brilliant and I want to get anyone who hasnt read it reading it, and those who have reading it again.

      • I thought you would be happy to know that I saw this at the second hand bookstore today so picked it up. I just finished reading it and am so glad I did. Thank you for the recommendation, what a great book!

  11. novelinsights

    This sounds quite darkly entertaining. Thanks for the review Simon!

  12. I’ve never read any Waugh (shame on me) but this sounds like a fun, entertaining one to start with!

  13. I’m always on a look out for a good Waugh. I loved Brideshead Revisited and have read Decline and Fall and A Handful of Dust. Each book seemed so different to me. I’m curious to know when this book is set. The collection looks great, you should definitely get them (I’m not a friend of your TBR pile, am I?!)

    • This book is set in Hollywood in the mid 1940’s I believe, sorry I should have popped that in the post I think in my over excitement of such a wonderful book I missed a few things out!

  14. I’ve been trying to decide which Waugh to read as my second outing with him and you’ve just decided it for me! This sounds like a great read and something I need for my recent odd mood.

    • Its brilliant Kristen, I hope you enjoy this as much as I did though, the worry when you rave about a book is that peopel get it hate it and think ;well drats to that Savidge man’ hee hee. I can’t see people not liking this… I hope.

  15. Eva

    I’m delighted to see this review! It totally caught my eye in the other post that you mentioned it, and now I definitely want to read it. Last year, I tried Decline and Fall and decided about 50 pages in that it simply wasn’t for me. So I’ve been wanting to give Waugh another shot!

    • This is a very darkly funny nnovel and if your prepared to have a good old giggle about death and the drama surrounding it then its perfection. I didnt warm to it instantly, I think it took maybe a chapter and a half and then it was book love.

  16. Waugh can be very, very funny (Scoop is a particular favorite of mine). I’ll have to add this one to my wish list.

    Great review.

    • Ok Scoop it is next then, that final comment from you has made it become the next waugh I will read, I am quite excited about it already. Musn’t overhype it before i have even read it though.

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  20. Jill

    I know I’m very late in responding to this post, but just wanted to mention that the movie “The Loved One” is hilarious, and you really should see it. Liberace plays a coffin salesman, if that gives you some idea of the humor. Jonathan Winters is also in it. I’m not sure if Waugh would have liked the movie version of his book, but I did.

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  24. Thanks for your review, I agree wholeheartedly with your feelings about ‘The Loved One’, and I too laughed out loud! Can’t wait to hear what my fellow readers in book club thought at our next meeting and it has reminded me, too, about how much I enjoy Waugh’s writing!

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