The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. Little, Brown (1948), 164 pp.
Now in his late twenties, Dennis Barlow has already had brief stints as RAF officer, poet and screenwriter. Now he’s the night attendant at a Los Angeles pet cemetery. He shares a house with a long-time stalwart of Hollywood’s British community, Sir Francis Hinsley, once a famous writer, now a studio PR man. It’s not long before Hinsley’s troubles at work lead Barlow to Whispering Glades (think Forest Lawn), where he meets enticing cosmetician Aimée Thanatogenos and talented mortician Mr. Joyboy.
Waugh begins with a scalding look at the ex-patriots, who see themselves on a noble but hopeless mission to civilize the heathen of Southern California. He goes on to skewer memorial rituals for deceased pets. But the author saves his heaviest fire for the elaborate cemetery where humans are interred. The goals of its founder, the attitudes of its administrators, and the arcane skills of its employees -- all are targets for Waugh’s satirical assault. And, no doubt, the first half of the book is consistently funny. The author has more trouble, however, developing an amusing story centering on the three main characters. He seems unsure whether they are to be laughed at, pitied or despised. The novel turns pretty nasty before it ends. Some readers may enjoy the blackening humor. Others may find it leaves them a bit uncomfortable.