Here we go with another batch of books vying for best comic novel. Stephen Fry’s debut novel was everything everyone hoped it would be; erudite, intelligent and really filthy.Of course, Fry really only ever writes about himself, but this is the best, up there with Waugh, about the schooldays of a boy born with ‘a fine brain but a dreadful mind’ – delightful.
‘Adolph Hitler: My Part In His Downfall’ was the first of Spike Milligan’s crazy memoirs about the war, a scattershot mess of a book that gives an approximation of what Spike’s mind must have been like. Personally I find his manic style exhausting, but I know this is on a lot of readers’ lists, as are the other (many) volumes…
‘But this book or your head will explode!’ screams the tagline on ‘Ghastly Beyond Belief’, Neil Gaiman & Kim Newman’s trawl through the worst of horror, SF and fantasy books and films – genres which are often prone to excess. ‘One thing is established,’ the detective says, ‘the killer had wings.’ ‘Give me an oscillator and a fast boat!’ shouts a hero. You couldn’t make this stuff, a true collection of stuff that was made up, up. Reprint please!
‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ is Lissa Evans’ love note to the Dunkirk landings. After promoting the joy of swedes for the Ministry of Food, Catrin finds herself required to fabricate a ‘true’ Dunkirk story of heroism for a propaganda film. The script extracts alone are hilarious. A knockout.
John Fortune and John Wells were known for many things, but this book wasn’t one of them. It should have been, because ‘A Melon For Ecstasy’ is about a man who falls in love (sexually) with trees. And when he starts going around parks armed with a drill. the corrupt local council springs hopelessly into action…
Delafield’s ‘Diary Of A Provincial Lady’ is written in shorthand, a Pooterish masterpiece of 20th Century humour that shows how easily she could communicate unspoken feelings of embarrassment and annoyance. Quotation is virtually impossible, as the gentle humour builds through the account of the year, but here she is at tea:
Here she is on wartime blackouts; ‘Serena alleges that anonymous friend of hers goes out in the dark with extra layer of chalk-white powder so as to be seen, and resembles the Dong With The Luminous Nose. (Query: Is it in any way true that war very often brings out the best in civil population? Answer: So far as I am concerned, Not at all.)’ Deep English Warning, but there are 5 volumes to enjoy.
Here’s my pick of the bunch, the reason why I wrote ‘Paperboy’. Bruce Robinson is the author of ‘Whithnail & I’, and this is his clearly biographical account of life as a thirteen year-old on the South coast, incorporating puberty, grandpas, Morse Code, enemas and exploding frogs. It’s uproarious, touching and very obviously true. Sadly, it’s his only novel.