Friday, April 22, 2016

The Loved One

I just finished reading The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy by Evelyn Waugh and I think it might be a new favorite. The book was originally published in 1948 and was the result of a trip to Hollywood by English writer Waugh and his wife to discuss the possibility of Waugh's novel "Brideshead Revisited" being turned into a movie. Waugh admits he had no intention of letting the novel become a movie, but thought they could get a nice trip out of the deal to discuss it.

While in Hollywood, Waugh discovered the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills. Forest Lawn is a cemetery founded in 1906 and I think is best described by this paraphrased quote from Jessica Mitford found on Wikipedia (the original source is missing) "Forest Lawn's kitsch was just a sophisticated strategy for lubricating the checkbooks of the grieved."

To say that Waugh was not impressed with Hollywood, Americans or even the English people who lived in Hollywood would be an understatement. As I mentioned, the result of his visit was the satiric, short-novel on the funeral industry.

"The Loved One" is a dark comedy about an English poet, mortuary cosmetician, and an embalmer at a fictional cemetery called Whispering Glades. Waugh's humor is dark and biting.  The women who arrange funerals at Whispering Glades are called a "Mortuary Hostess."  The deceased are called "Loved Ones" and the bereaved are called the "Waiting Ones".

During an overview of the interment possibilities one of the Mortuary Hostesses relates "We have single sites as low as fifty dollars. That is in Pilgrims' Rest, a zone we are developing behind the crematory fuel dump."

In describing the expert care Whispering Glades gives in making the Loved Ones presentable the Mortuary Hostess exclaims "Why if he sat on an atom bomb, they'd make him presentable."

I rarely laugh out loud when I'm reading, but I did with this book. I should also mention that I read the entire book sitting on the porch one afternoon. My copy had 128 little pages. I should also mention that this was my third attempt at starting to read the novel. I would get a few pages in and quit. I had to focus and get in the rhythm of Waugh's writing before I started to really enjoy it. I'm glad I did. I want to re-read it already.

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