Comedy in Literature
A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
One of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’, A Confederacy of Dunces is the laugh-out-loud story of larger-than-life Ignatius J. Reilly, as he flounders his way through 1960s New Orleans.
‘This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians . . . don’t make the mistake of bothering me.’
‘I succumbed, stunned and seduced, page after page, vocal with delight. A masterwork of comedy.’ New York Times
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
Defying categorisation, Sterne’s work is part novel, part digression, but overall it is a gloriously disordered narrative that interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate ‘hero’ Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters, including Dr Slop, Corporal Trim and the parson Yorick.
‘I am got, I know not how, into a cold unmetaphorical vein of infamous writing, and cannot take a plumb-lift out of it for my soul; so must be obliged to go on writing like a Dutch commentator to the end of the chapter, unless something be done . . .’
Cold Comfort Farm
One of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’
‘Brilliant . . . very probably the funniest book ever written.’ Sunday Times
When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.
Apex Hides the Hurt
The town of Winthrop has decided it needs a new name. The resident software millionaire wants to call it New Prospera; the mayor wants to return to the original choice of the founding black settlers; and the town’s aristocracy sees no reason to change the name at all. What they need, they realise, is a nomenclature consultant.
And, it turns out, the consultant needs them. But in a culture overwhelmed by marketing, the name is everything and our hero’s efforts may result in not just a new name for the town but a new and subtler truth about it too.
A New York Times Notable Book from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad.
Time passed slowly in the 1950s, especially if you’d been put to bed and told not to move (until further notice). But John Cromer, the central character of this extraordinary novel, is much closer to being an explorer than a victim. He’s the weakest hero in fiction – unless he’s one of the strongest.
The first instalment of the semi-infinite Pilcrow sequence, this novel of capacious wit and style marks the opening chapter of the most memorable and enjoyable experiment in modern fiction.
‘Pilcrow is a humdinger, a startling work that stands out against the monotonous field of contemporary British fiction as a genuine, almost miraculous oddity.’ Metro
The Pursuit of Love
Nancy Mitford’s brilliantly witty, irreverent stories of the upper classes in pre-war London and Paris conjure up a world of glamour, gossip and decadence. In The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate and The Blessing, her extraordinary heroines deal with armies of eccentric relatives, the excitement of love and passion, and the thrills of the social Season.
‘A masterpiece . . . The Pursuit of Love is one of the funniest books ever written.’ India Knight, The Times
John Self is a consumer extraordinaire.
Rolling between London and New York he closes movie deals and spends feverishly, all the while grabbing everything he can to sate his massive appetites: alcohol, tobacco, pills, pornography and mountains of junk food.
But John’s excesses haven’t gone unnoted. Menaced by a phone stalker, his high-wire, hoggish lifestyle is about to bring him face-to-face with the secret of his success.
‘Terribly, terminally funny: laughter in the dark, if ever I heard it.’ Guardian
It’s the closing months of World War II and Yossarian has never been closer to death. Stationed in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy, each flight mission introduces him to thousands of people determined to kill him.
But the enemy above is not Yossarian’s problem – it is his own army intent on keeping him airborne and the maddening ‘Catch-22’ that allows for no possibility of escape.
‘The greatest satirical work in the English language.’ Observer
Thank You, Jeeves
P. G. Wodehouse
‘The most industrious, prolific and beneficent author ever to have sat down, scratched his head and banged out a sentence.’ Stephen Fry
When his incomparable valet Jeeves suddenly resigns, how will the hapless Bertie Wooster get by?
Bertie’s dedicated but somewhat untuneful playing of the banjo has driven Jeeves, his otherwise steadfast gentleman’s gentleman, to give notice. Looking for respite, Bertie disappears to the country as a guest of his chum Chuffy, only to find his peace shattered by the arrival of his ex-fiancée Pauline Stoker, her formidable father and the eminent loony-doctor Sir Roderick Glossop. It seems Bertie cannot survive for long without Jeeves – and soon a situation arises which only Jeeves can solve.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2016
‘Outrageous, hilarious and profound.’ Simon Schama, Financial Times
A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game.
Born in Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in his father’s racially charged psychological studies. He is told that his father’s work will lead to a memoir that will solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed in a drive-by shooting, he discovers there never was a memoir. All that’s left is a bill for a drive-through funeral.
What’s more, Dickens has literally been wiped off the map to save California from further embarrassment. Fuelled by despair, the narrator sets out to right this wrong with the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.
His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as a mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.’
Lucky Jim is one of the best-loved comedies in English literature.
Jix Dixon has a terrible job at a second-rate university. His life is full of things he could happily do without: the tedious and ridiculous Professor Welch, a neurotic and unstable girlfriend, Margaret, burnt sheets, medieval recorder music and over-enthusiastic students. If he can just deliver a lecture on ‘Merrie England’, a moderately successful career surely awaits him. But without luck, life is never simple . . .
‘I have bought more copies of this book to give to people, in a frenzy of enthusiasm, than any other . . . Heartburn is the perfect, bittersweet, sobbingly funny, all-too-true confessional novel.’ Nigella Lawson
Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that this woman has a ‘neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb’ is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. Heartburn is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and most satisfyingly revenge.
Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of The Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs Algernon Stitch, he feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising little war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. But for pale, ineffectual William Boot, editor of The Daily Beast’s ‘nature notes’ column, being mistaken for a competent journalist may prove to be a fatal error . . .
‘Waugh at the mid-season point of his perfect pitch.’ Christopher Hitchens
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013
On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming – not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation’s guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki’s old school friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality – everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science . . .
And as the time draws ever nearer for one or other Dr Wilfred – or possibly both – to give the eagerly awaited lecture, so Skios – Greece – Europe – career off their appointed track.
Miguel de Cervantes
Often considered to be the first modern novel, Don Quixote is a wonderful burlesque of the popular literature with which its disordered protagonist is obsessed.
Don Quixote has become so entranced by reading romances of chivalry that he determines to become a knight errant and pursue bold adventures, accompanied by his squire, the cunning Sancho Panza. As they roam the world together, the ageing Quixote’s fancy leads them wildly astray. At the same time the relationship between the two men grows in fascinating subtlety.
Diary of a Nobody
George and Weedon Grosssmith
First appearing as a Punch magazine serial in 1888–89, The Diary of a Nobody became popular over time before becoming an established comic classic. George Grossmith was already an accomplished musical entertainer, having contributed to Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas during the 1870s and 1880s, while Weedon was a notable actor and playwright.
The ‘endlessly funny’ novel widely regarded as a classic of comic English literature.
Porterhouse College is world renowned for its gastronomic excellence, the arrogance of its Fellows, its academic mediocrity and the social cache it confers on the athletic sons of country families.
Sir Godber Evans, ex-Cabinet Minister and the new Master, is determined to change all this. Spurred on by his politically angular wife, Lady Mary, he challenges the established order and provokes the wrath of the Dean, the Senior Tutor, the Bursar and, most intransigent of all, Skullion the Head Porter – with hilarious and catastrophic results.