i found this to be much, much better than the two other waugh books i read: vile bodies, and the loved one. i would have liked it immensely had it ended about three quarters in, as stopping there would have satisfied my need for comeuppance for jerks but that comeuppance never came. the last quarter of the book is almost a sequel to the first part, and left a darkness in its wake.
and yet, from what i have come to understand in reading waugh, he never would have let me have what i craved, and i have to come to believe he is much like the other e.w., edith wharton, after all. the tarnished polished people they describe wallow, and they wallow deep. there is no rising above here. there is only a hard, empty entitlement or failure, or death. his books always have shocking deaths in them -- i have actually gasped aloud. i felt waugh had a much better handle on his characters here: they are more believable to me than the caricatures of the previous novels, and breathe, if pathetically, or malignantly.
that last quarter ending i have since found has also been published previously and separately as a short story called "the man who liked dickens". it was in fact a prequel rather than a sequel. it is intensely creepy: never before has the reference to the works of charles dickens left with me such dread. and yet, i do think the casual reader might feel a slight disconnect when they embark upon this as a section of the novel. they feel like two different works, i think.
(when the lovely mariel left me a comment, i did a bit more research and found a link to a paris review interview with waugh. he mentions this novel and the separate story and their genesis there, so i thought i'd post it here:
paris review art of fiction no. 30.>)
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This work by <span xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" property="cc:attributionName">Maureen de Sousa</span> is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/deed.en_US">Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License</a>.