The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

“Mothers of great men often disconcert their son’s admirers”

Dennis Barlow–a British poet–works (much to the shame of the British ex-patriate community) at the Happier Hunting Ground Pet Cemetery in Hollywood. When fellow Britisher, Sir Francis commits suicide, Dennis is roped in to organize the funeral. Sir Francis is scheduled for internment in the Poet’s Corner with the services of the prestigious Whispering Glades funeral home. While finalizing the minute details of the funeral, Dennis meets Aimee Thanatogenos, a cosmetician at the funeral home. Aimee is also involved with embalmer Mr. Joyboy, and soon Dennis and Joyboy become archrivals for the lovely Aimee’s affections.

Aimee and Joyboy take great pride in their work, and never once does their professionalism slip. Dennis, on the other hand, is remarkably irreverent about every aspect of life, so he has to resort to some devious means to win Aimee. Aimee is easily influenced (she may be beautiful, but she’s not very bright), and just as she is swayed by Mr. Joyboy’s status at the funeral home, she is also swayed by the idea that Dennis is a bona fide poet. Soon Dennis is borrowing lines from some of the world’s greatest love poetry and claiming it is his own, and Aimee is caught between the two men–unable to decide which one to marry. Meanwhile Mr. Joyboy’s embalmed corpses act as a sort of barometer for his courtship of Aimee–when the relationship is going well, “the corpses who came to Aimee for her ministrations now grinned with triumph.”

The Loved One is full of sly, macabre humour, and some of the funniest scenes occur when Aimee goes home with Mr. Joyboy to meet his mother–a miserable woman whose bosom companion is a naked parrot named Sambo. The Loved One is one of the oddest novels in the English language, and it’s certainly bizarre that a funeral home is the setting of a comic novel. Waugh–ever known for a biting, wicked sense of humour, exploits the language and internal politics of the funeral industry beautifully and mercilessly. I highly recommend this novel for an odd, distracting read–I doubt you’ll ever forget it.

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