Here’s the inner cover blurb in my copy of The Loved One:
The Loved One is a nightmare induced by the unfamiliar diet of Southern California. That region, where all men are displaced persons, is unique in the splendid elaboration of its graveyards, and to these Evelyn Waugh turned for solace and inspiration during a brief visit. Against the background of embalming-rooms and incinerators he has contrived a neat tragedy of Anglo-American manners which we hope will amuse and instruct curious readers of both nations.
The Loved One may be a short novel, but it is full with jabs.
At Southern California:
“Sir Ambrose, in accordance with local custom, refrained from listening.”
At female habits of the time:
“In Aimeé’s bathroom cupboard, among the instruments and chemicals which are the staples of feminine well-being, lay the brown tube of barbiturates which is the staple of feminine repose.”
At the English, in which the main character’s love interest describes his Un-Americaness:
“I do not mean just his accent and the way he eats but he is cynical at things which should be sacred.”
And at Southern California again:
“No one in Southern California, as you know, ever inquires what goes on beyond the mountains.”
But The Loved One is more than just a series of barbs. They are merely amusing (and sometimes honest) reflections in a well-told story. The plot does indeed center around graveyards, as that is where all of the main characters work. And it is a tragedy, but the most amazing aspect of Waugh’s book is the way he makes the gruesome images of death and corpses seem so plain. By doing so, the reader’s attention does not stay focused on the darkness of the setting, but on those ever present themes of love and loss and how people deal with them. A funeral home setting is perfect for this parallel and I’m surprised it is not done more often.
Waugh does an excellent job with making a short story not seem scant. The main characters are well rounded, there are supporting roles to help their motives along, and he doesn’t revel too much in unimportant scenery. On top pf that, his story of two men fighting over one woman, a story which has been told a thousand times, does not sound trite. His brutal honesty in describing everything was a refreshment of sorts and made what could of otherwise been a simple love story into an enjoyable frolic through the graveyard.
Up next: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Check it here.
This article first appeared on Better Than Sliced Bread.