This is a mildly amusing pitch black comedy about the American funeral industry and the British in Hollywood. (And American advice columnists.) It’s pretty slight and it feels like Waugh didn’t exactly know what kind of story he wanted to tell for this. (There are three or four main topics in a book that is very short.)
So my first complaint is that it’s not nearly as funny as it should be. At least some of this comes with the age of it – things that were uproarious in 1948 are not necessarily so in 2020. Humour doesn’t always age well. That being said, I thought A Handful of Dust was hilarious so it could just be this book. I will say that I was laughing more by the end of it than I was early on, and some of this may have been just getting used to reading Waugh again – it’s been a while – or not quite getting some of the “British in Hollywood” stuff.
A nit to pick: early on, at least one American character speaks as if they were actually British which rubbed me the wrong way and put me in a bit of a mood, I think. But I only noticed it early on, for whatever reason. (Well, the character I noticed doing it disappears from the book…)
I like how Waugh subverts storytelling conventions in the novel and I got a real kick about he does it with the climax. For me, that’s the best part of the novel, though he does hint he will do something like it with the way he handles other major plot developments. (I.e. doesn’t depict them.) There’s a certain level of art here, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make up for the problems of the book.
On the whole, I just didn’t laugh enough. Had I laughed more, I might have not worried about whether or not it was a satire of funeral services in the US, the Brits in Hollywood or American advice columnists. But not laughing enough lets you think about what’s wrong with the book.