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The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

by Venky

EvelynInspired by Evelyn Waugh’s not so memorable tryst with Hollywood when an attempt was made to transform his masterpiece “Brideshead Revisited” into a film adaptation, “The Loved One” is a savage criticism of pretention, profligacy and pomposity.

Dennis Barlow is a struggling out of favour English poet who lives in the United States of America. To make ends meet, Barlow works as a mortician for animals. The company employing him is in an exquisite craftsmanship of irony, is named Happy Hunting Ground. When Barlow’s housemate Sir Francis Hinsley commits suicide after his contract with Hollywood is repudiated, Barlow visits The Whispering Glades for the first time. The Whispering Glades is a crematorium like no other where death is glorified to a degree of absurdity never before envisaged. The pallor of rotten flesh is transformed into a sleek shining piece of expensive art and the master artisan of this dexterous process is the much vaunted Mr.JoyBoy.

Dennis comes into contact with a junior mortician Aimee Thanatogenos and is instantly besotted with her. However he faces stern competition in the form of the indefatigable Mr.BoyJoy who, being incorrigibly smitten by Aimee, always ensures that the corpses delivered to him before being assigned to Aimee for the superficial touch up, have a beaming smile on their tepid faces.

What follows is a triangular love story of deceit, danger and doom. Evelyn Waugh in a delirious mixture of sarcasm and prose, delivers a virtuoso work that makes one ponder hard and long. The vulnerability of Aimee caught between two egoistic suitors; the chameleon like shifting exterior of Dennis Barlow, and the foolish naiveté of Joyboy denote a veritable theatre of the absurd where helpless beings tightly hold on to those things which they are most desperate to rid themselves of.
Upon completion of this novel by Waugh, The New Yorker, to publish it since according to the publishing house, the theme addressed by the novel had already been well-handled by American authors, such as S. J. Perelman, Sinclair Lewis, and Nathanael West,The magazine wrote “The freshest part of Mr. Waugh’s story is the part which refers to the English in Hollywood, and we wish, wistfully, that he had concerned himself more exclusively with that theme.”

In the year 1965 Terry Southern adapted the novel into an extravagant film of the same name, billed as “The motion picture with something to offend everyone!” Christopher Isherwood worked on an early version of the screenplay and can be glimpsed as one of ‘Uncle Frank’s’ mourners.

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