I've broken this review into installments. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

Winner Takes All: This one left me cold. The pattern is established early (Esau have I loved, Jacob have I hated) and carried out dutifully to the end. This pattern itself is not the problem; several of Waugh's best stories involve the relentless misfortune of a hapless, bland male (cf. the first novel, Decline and Fall -- especially the tetraptychs on the original front cover and spine, designed by the author). But this time, except for an incident involving the mis-delivery of two Christmas presents, there are no laughs. All three of the women are dull. ★☆☆☆☆

An Englishman's Home: Waugh is in fine feather here. The central figure is Beverly Metcalfe, a wonderful, harmless old humbug who after a successful career abroad, has recently retired with his wife to the country. He fancies himself a squire; everyone else knows better. In Waugh's hands, this would be enough material for a good short story, but he also sketches in three of Metcalfe's landowning neighbors -- an elitist, artsy-crafty bohemian couple, a relatively poor colonel, and a "rich and kind and rather greedy" widow. The five neighbors are brought together (and quite comically driven apart) by a threat to their property from an outsider. In addition to the individual and social satire, the story clearly takes aim at death duties and landowners' rising taxes. The final page doesn't disappoint, either. ★★★★★

The Sympathetic Passenger: A slight tale involving a lunatic, but the reader of my audiobook edition (Simon Prebble) gives it life. Am I wrong to see in the title a distant allusion to the melodramatic fiction of Greeneland? For more lunatics in Waugh's fiction, see "Mr Loveday," the Prologue of Brideshead Revisited (1945), and the novella Love Among the Ruins. ★★☆☆☆

Work Suspended (Parts One and Two): This is Waugh's unfinished novel (1939); the title refers to Waugh's own choice to quit writing after the declaration of war. (He joined the army.) It is longer than all of the other stories, and I cannot do it justice here. The narrator is one John Plant, a detective novelist (Murder at Mountrichard Castle, Vengeance at the Vatican, Death in the Dukeries). In Part One, the sudden death of his father, and an embarrassing scene at a brothel, draw Plant away from Morocco, where he had been writing his latest book.* He makes the acquaintance of the man who accidentally killed his father (by car). In Part Two, which is set entirely in London, his friend's wife is delivered of her first baby. Work Suspended is more interesting as a way-station to Brideshead than as an independent story. It is Waugh's first sustained first-person narrative; Plant is a study for Charles Ryder (both are artists, both have cranky widower fathers who purposefully throw bad parties, both love another man's wife). Don't miss the elder Plant (a painter, like Ryder), the friend Simmonds (a Marxist of convenience), cousin Julia, and the monkey at the end. Arthur Atwater, who killed the elder Plant, left me unmoved. ★★★★☆

*Waugh wrote A Handful of Dust in Fez.

AuthorSeth Holler