“A Handful of Dust” is a welcome read for anyone who has felt love and loss. The book revolves around the marriage and subsequent disintegration of Tony and Brenda Smart, two Bristish aristocrats, who live a comfortable live at an estate in the English Countryside called Hetton. Tony’s life is consumed by this family estate and its upkeep and Brenda who longs for a little more in life and a much more urban lifestyle begins to wander and roam. Enter the reactionary agent, John Beaver, to the infidelity concoction and you have a recipe for a failed marriage.
For a little more than half the book, we see how Brenda and John Beaver sneak behind Tony’s back and assume all is well. Brenda even is bold enough to rent a flat (apartment) in London to say she is pursuing her “Economics” studies. As the book progresses, we see the lie begin to take over the lives of the characters and its cover up gets harder and harder to keep until one tragic moment. I won’t give away what the tragic moment is but it seals the nail in the coffin of what you will think of the characters.
The second half of the book, deals with the aftermath of what happens following the tragedy. The book has two endings, each very different than the other, but neither that leaves the reader with a feeling of well being. Instead, a feeling of shock resides from the first ending and a feeling of deserved revenge follows the second.
One good thing about this book is that Waugh was not writing from inexperience. His first marriage ended from infidelity and he bore the feelings and emotions that have been captured in this book. I highly suggest reading the introduction provided with the Everyman’s edition, however it does give the ending away in a round about fashion. “A Handful of Dust” is not just a book, it is a work of humanity and that is what truly makes this book a classic.