Wednesday, 12 January 2011
The Loved One
It's nothing new that Waugh is funny: he's a funny writer, that's almost the point. But this funeral farce is categorically different to his better known work.
It's a love triangle that balances between an embalmer's studio and a low rent pet cemetary; the love notes are the manic grins (or otherwise) prepared on the casket faces of anonymous Loved Ones... for what more tactful way to refer to the clients of a funereal business?
The hero is a poet who seduces a corpse-cosmetician by borrowing heavily from the Oxford Book of English Verse; and who lies about his job at the pet cemetary to avoid the professional snobbbery that his love, an employee of the high-class Whispering Glades, has for it. If I mentioned that he solves his problems by becoming a non-sectarian preacher, you'll probably guess the next thing I'm going to say....
This is a lot like Wodehouse. Really, a lot. I know from reading Donaldson's excellent biography of Wodehouse that Waugh was a friend and huge fan of the man, but that has always surprised me. Because Waugh's comedy is the opposite to Wodehouse's kind, rolling turns and loops. Waugh is barbed, laughing at, cruelly accurate; and serious. Ever so serious, when seen next to Wodehouse.
So The Loved One is something of an anomaly. It doesn't really fit in with Vile Bodies or Put Out More Flags, it's a separate endeavour. It's the missing link between Waugh's own work and the completely different work of Wodehouse that he held in such high esteem. It is, I like to think, a firm, heartfelt, and excellent work of flattery (or a kinder word than that).
This is Waugh gesturing wildly across the canyon, acknowledging the distance between the two writers by trying to imagine it out of existence. It is, frankly, a tribute.