A Handful of Dust
Why this book?
One of the rare successful tragicomedies. Starting as a witty sendup of the decadent British upper classes, it turns deadly serious in the middle, when John, the young son of Brenda, has an accident while fox-hunting. Because her lover is also called John, she imagines, on being told, that it is her lover who is hurt—and thanks God when she discovers that it is her son. Brenda’s distraught husband Tony, the one noble character, mounts an expedition to South America, but instead of finding meaning and redemption, as the reader hopes, a nightmarish fate awaits him. With this novel, Waugh proved himself the greatest British novelist of the inter-war years—and inspired me, showing me how to mix elements of gravity and tragedy with comedy.