The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

Title: The Loved One
Evelyn Waugh
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Original Publication Date: 1948
Genre: British literature, humor, satire

The Premise

From Goodreads…

Following the death of a friend, the poet and pets’ mortician Dennis Barlow finds himself entering the artificial Hollywood paradise of the Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Within its golden gates, death, American-style, is wrapped up and sold like a package holiday-and Dennis gets drawn into a bizarre love triangle with Aimée Thanatogenos, a naïve Californian corpse beautician, and Mr. Joyboy, a master of the embalmer’s art. Waugh’s dark and savage satire on the Anglo-American cultural divide depicts a world where reputation, love, and death cost a very great deal.

The book was inspired by a trip Waugh and his wife made to Los Angeles in 1947 to consult with a Hollywood studio that had acquired the rights to film Brideshead Revisited (a film he didn’t actually want the studio to produce). It seems he disliked pretty much everything about his time in Los Angeles except his trips to the Forest Lawn where it appears he spent much of his time.

The Good

  • It’s Los Angeles! As a native Angeleno, it was a lot of fun to see this version of LA in the 40s, which is the time much of my family came to the city. It always gives me a little nerd-like thrill to read a book and recognize places that are so familiar to me.
  • It’s funny! There is some sharp, clever satire here about the funeral industry, Hollywood, and British ex-pats. I’ve only read Brideshead Revisited, so I was pleasantly surprised by how funny this was.
  • It became a movie staring both Sir John Gielgud and Liberace and (according to Wikipedia) Christopher Isherwood. This fact alone made the reading the book worthwhile for me. I highly recommend you take a moment to watch the trailer. It looks completely bananas. I suspect Waugh would disapprove.

The Bad

  • The book’s subtitle is “An Anglo-American Tragedy” so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the final act took a bizarre, deeply macabre turn at the end. But what happens in the final act was so dark and felt jarring and unearned that it just put me off the book. It’s one of those “wtf just happened” endings where I was left wondering if I had missed something because I had no idea how the author got me there. That can work in some books, but in such a slim book, it left me with the impression of an author too lazy to come up with an actual plot or put any effort into developing characters.

The Verdict

3/5 stars. It was a fun but flawed. An extra .5 stars for guiding me to the bonkers movie trailer.

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