A literary bonbon in size, if only sometimes in flavour, Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One is premium confectionery at that. Immaculately structured and irreverently humorous, the Loved One, ‘an American Tragi-Comedy’ presents a satirical take on 1950s Los Angeles and expatriate Englishmen.
Within the murmuring rooms at the funeral home of Whispering Glades, in its excess and euphemistic seriousness truly worthy of Hollywood, a romance blooms between its most revered and employee, Mr Joyboy, and the ‘decadent’ corpse cosmetician Aimee Thanatogenos. Theirs is a courtship deeply linked with their mutual profession; Mr Joyboy’s Valentines are the blissful smiles he contrives only upon the cadavers destined for Aimee’s ministries, and her admiration of him stems from the respect due his qualifications and his eloquent skill with the bodies of the dead.
However, Aimee proves her susceptibility to the fulfilment of her name (so linguistically incongruous!) in falling for a young British writer, Dennis, who woos her with the work of dead poets which he claims as his own; in the paucity, respectively, of Aimee’s education and Dennis’ inspiration, both American and British norms of culture bear the blows of Waugh’s satire as he describes their unfortunate love affair.
Waugh’s stipulated preference for perfection in literary expression over that of character is only very barely perceptible here – some jibes at the expense of self-important Hollywood executives and British expat Lords are too general and fleeting to attract much scrutiny. But the caricatures are witty and the language satisfying; there is pleasure to be found in Waugh’s deflated advice columnists, and his juxtaposition of the pet cemetery, the Happier Hunting Ground, with the grandeur and suffocating self-importance of Whispering Glades. As stated above, The Loved One is but a little book, a brief diversion whose length is perfectly suited to its comic and satirical scope.