The Loved One (Evelyn Waugh)

Portrait of Evelyn Waugh

At our first Reading Group meeting of 2012, we discussed our thoughts and feelings inspired by Evelyn Waugh‘s novel The Loved One.

We all found it amusing – sometimes in quite different ways, with one member of the group reading parts of his favourite sections.  We found it quite astonishing that Los Angeles and Hollywood society of the time of writing (1947-48) should already be perceived as fake and superficial by Waugh, who wrote the novel shortly after a visit to Hollywood. (He was there to talk with a film studio to consider their making a film of Brideshead Revisited.)  We didn’t find the characters particularly likeable, from the stereotypical British ex-pats and the seemingly vapid residents who are very concerned with ensuring their ‘Loved Ones’, be they animal or human, get a good funeral and a truly heavenly afterlife!  The setting was wonderfully described and brought together the people and their environment perfectly.  We did think Aimée’s demise very sad but the way that she was dispatched into the afterlife almost comic.  Waugh does not seem to care very much for his characters except to the point that they are well-drawn and appear believable in their unbelievable setting.  As with Greene, it was felt that he doesn’t portray women in a good light, this could be due to the fact that he had a very unhappy first marriage, but by the time he wrote The Loved One, he was happily married to his second wife.

Waugh was amazed that sales were extremely good in America after the novel was published!   It may seem that any society such as this would not exist in reality, but it does appear that the Los Angeles area of California does, and a contemporary take on this society can be found in A M Homes’s book This Book Will Save Your Life.  What Homes has done is extend Waugh’s Los Angeles of the late 1940s into modern times, the sentiment feels much the same and I did laugh out loud when reading her book.  Clearly the contents of each story are not at all similar but I do think that the essence of both reflects on the state of Los Angeles society.

Another member of the group also talked of Waugh’s Decline and Fall, and how she enjoyed it, thinking of the funnier side of boarding and independent school life, a good read to follow on from The Loved One.

Here are some really nice reviews of The Loved One from the web: