In the novel, a young English poet, Dennis Barlow, goes to Los Angeles to visit his uncle, Sir Francis Hensley, who works at a film studio. When he is fired by the studio, Sir Francis commits suicide, and Dennis goes to the imposing necropolis called Whispering Glades (its details partly inspired by Forest Lawn, which mesmerized Waugh) to arrange for the funeral. While there, he meets Amy Thanatogenos, an embalmers assistant, and becomes obsessed with her.
The comedy is savage and macabre, as biting today as it was when it was written. The Loved One appeared on most of the 'Hundred Best Novels of the Century' lists in 2000.