Not the #1947 Club, or – my reading challenge #Fail!

Like many fellow bloggers, I’ve been browsing my bookshelves for possible contenders to read for the #1947 club, co-hosted by Karen over at Kaggsys Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. I knew that of the books I own I could read The Plague by Albert Camus and Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, both published in 1947, but suspected that they would be quite popular choices, so I kept looking. When I checked out the Wikipedia page for 1947 in literature I chanced upon The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh, a slim volume which I also happen to have in my collection. A quick glance at the first few lines  and I was sold on Waugh’s bone dry elegant wit. It was only when flicking to the front on finishing the novel that I realised my mistake. Clearly printed, the date of publication was 1948, not 1947. Further googling proved this to indeed be the case, and while Waugh did write The Loved One in 1947, it wasn’t published until the following year – Dag nabbit!

I’ve just started another novel that I’ve checked and double-checked that meets the criteria for the 1947 club and fingers crossed I’ll get it read and blogged before the week is out, but if not I’ll just have to be late to the party. For now, feeling rather like the only person to turn up in extravagant fancy dress at a non-fancy dress party, I shall briefly share my thoughts on Waugh’s dark comedy.

The Loved One takes as its subject the experience of a handful of Brits living and working in and around the film industry in the States and spoofs the extravagant funereal customs of wealthy Californians. Much of the novel’s comedy arises from the perceived cultural differences between the two countries.

They are a very decent generous lot of people out here and they don’t expect you to listen. Always remember that, dear boy. It’s the secret of social ease in this country. They talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard.

After he is callously ‘let go’ from his job after twenty five years, Sir Francis Hinsley ends his own life and is delivered into the hands of premier funeral parlour, Whispering Glades. The funeral arrangements are left to Dennis, Sir Hinsley’s erstwhile lodger. While waiting for his success as a poet back in England to be replicated here, the other side of the pond, he has taken employment at Happier Hunting Grounds – a funeral parlour for pets. This has caused great consternation among the other ex-pats of his acquaintance, not being seen as a fitting mode of employment for one of their social circle.

While Happier Hunting Grounds is the first choice for the well to-do residents of California on the demise of their beloved pets, they won’t spend on the scale that they do at Whispering Glades, and Dennis is keen to observe all he can of his rival’s practices. In the process he falls for one of the cosmeticians.

The girl who now entered was unique…Her full face was oval, her profile pure and classical and light. Her eyes greenish and remote, with a rich glint of lunacy.

However, the object of his affections, Aimée has another admirer, the talented embalmer, Mr Joyboy. Torn between the attentions of Dennis and her colleague, Aimée resorts to bombarding the agony aunt of the local paper with numerous letters as her heart swings from one suitor to the next. Waugh’s fast-paced high farce does not end well, and his light treatment of one character’s death adds a dark edginess to the slapstick superficiality of the society that he has sketched. I enjoyed The Loved One. It was a quick read, but as barbed as it was brief. Waugh’s writing is darkly comic and delicious, and while I still feel like an idiot for my mistake over the publication date, I’m glad I got to read it.

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