Funny books to take your mind off things

James Thellusson

James Thellusson has put together a list of his favourtite comic novels to take our minds off things.

1.Down with Skool / Geoffrey Willans & Ronald Searle: If your kids think their education has been ruined by Covid-19 make them read about the trials of Nigel Molesworth because any fule kno St Custard’s is the worst boy’s skool in the country and St. Trinian’s is the worst for girls. Phonetic spelling has never been so funny.

2.The Ascent of Rum Doodle / WE Bowman: Think ‘Ripping Yarns’ by the Python duo Michael Palin and Terry Jones.  This parody of British mountaineering and derring-do is narrated by Binder, one of the most incompetent and unselfconscious characters in British fiction. Binder is Bertie Wooster mixed with Edmund Hillary. But he’s the antithesis of leadership and it’s soon clear he couldn’t organise a beer tasting at Fullers, let alone the ascent of the infamous mountain Rum Doodle. You’ll roar with laughter at ‘Rum Doodle’s’ characters: Jungle, the navigator who is always lost; Prone, the physician, who is always flat out ill and Pong, the cook, whose inedible rank food smells. Read in an afternoon.

3. What Ho! Best of Wodehouse / PG Wodehouse: I’d like to read a review of Jeeves by Jeremy Corbyn. I imagine Wodehouse’s elegy for the values of Edwardian society and uncritical acceptance of the master servant relationship at the heart of Wodehouse’s work would set Jezza’s teeth on edge. Sometimes, I feel the same way. But…the writing is crystal clear and there is something kind, charming and gently witty about the whole thing. If this doesn’t make you smile, don’t bother with Wodehouse:

‘What ho!’ I said.

‘What ho! Said Motty.

‘What ho! What ho!’

‘What ho! What Ho! What ho!’ 

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

4. The Sellout / Paul Beatty: If any of the comic books (above) have any serious intent, they wear it lightly. The Sellout, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2016, is a full-on, sulphuric comic satire on race relations in the USA. The book tells the story of a small-town community in Los Angeles where the local black community reintroduce slavery and segregation. It’s an outrageous, possibly offensive premise which is a deliberate challenge to liberal values, multi-culturalism and the reader. I often felt uncomfortable. But it is also very funny, angry and beautifully written. The humour is badass, foul mouthed and visceral. At one point, Hominy, a sado-masochist, attaches the doorbell wires of his front door to his testes to enjoy the pain every time a ‘Trick or Treater’ press his doorbell on Halloween Night. If your idea of humour is the subtle social innuendo of Jane Austen, this is not for you.

5. Diary of a somebody / Brain Bilston: Bilston’s sometimes called the Banksy of poetry. He’s got a huge following on Twitter. This is his first novel. It’s a wistful diary of a man who struggles to be a poet while losing his wife, son and job. The protagonist is a shy, sensitive, witty man put upon by life and his family, called Bilston. ‘Diary’ isn’t a page turning pot boiler. But it is a delightful picnic hamper of sound bite sized snippets perfect for families who want to share a joke while in lock down. Tim Dowling with gags. For example:‘My surroundings went by in a blur – I’d forgotten to put my contact lenses in – but rarely have I felt so alive. I treated myself to a super-sized fry up brunch in celebration: two extra Quorn sausages.’