Reading Waugh is like being air-kissed by a socialite who clutches your shoulder in mock affection with one hand while raising an ice-pick behind your back with the other. You know you should be on guard for certain injury, but charisma sweeps you away in an intoxicating wave of champagne and caviar.
Waugh wrote with scathing irony of the plight of English gentry between the two world wars. Sinking into debt and irrelevancy in the wake of the Depression, these bored and bigoted hyphenated lords and ladies flit from ballroom to bedroom, trading partners and gossip as they scheme for invites to the best parties and positions in the right clubs.
The soullessness of these lives would be near impossible to bear if it weren’t for Waugh’s rapier language and his inclusion of the reader in the Grand Guignol. His satire is deadly (quite literally, in the context of the story, but I shan’t spoil the surprises) and oftentimes laugh-out-loud hilarious. David Sedaris and David Mamet owe heaps of inspiration to Waugh’s deadpan comedy and rapid-fire dialogue.
“Well, well, well,” said Dan, “what next.”
“Do I get a drink?” said Dan’s girl.
“Baby, you do, if I have to get it myself. Won’t you two join us, or are we de trop?”
They went together into the glittering lounge.
“I’m cold like hell,” said Baby.
Dan had taken off his greatcoat and revealed a suit of smooth, purplish plus fours, and a silk shirt of a pattern Tony might have chosen for pyjamas. “We’ll soon warm you up,” he said
“This place stinks of yids, ” said Baby.
“I always think that’s the sign of good hotel, don’t you?” said Tony.
“Like hell,” said Baby.
These people are so awful you can’t look away. And Waugh is so brilliant you can’t stop reading.