Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Brad Zellar lists his funniest novels of all time. On the strength of this, I've dusted off Pickwick and may reborrow Pale Fire which I had sitting here for 6 weeks recently as a bedside ornament.

In response to the appeal for funny novels by women, I was going to suggest The Holiday by Stevie Smith which I once found for a dollar, and found very funny.
But -iest? ... Who nose.

Comments: funniest

I haven't heard of nine of those, and haven't read any. Do they come online? In blogs, maybe?
Posted by Tony.T at April 13, 2005 01:32 PM

e Pickwick
Posted by boynton at April 13, 2005 02:14 PM

re the Zellar choice, definitely 'At Swim Two Birds'. But for me # 1 has got to be 'Lucky Jim' by Kingsley Amis.
Posted by Dick at April 13, 2005 07:26 PM

My funniest is definitely Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide... but he hardly gets a look in :-/
Posted by Kent at April 14, 2005 01:03 AM

Undeservedly contemporaneously obscure is "The Darling Buds of May" by H.E. Bates.
Posted by Ajax B at April 14, 2005 09:51 AM

H.E.Bates features in Withnail And I ...

Marwood's (Paul McGann) voice over upon encountering a hostile farmer --

"Not the attitude I'd been given to expect from the H.E.Bates novel I'd read. I thought they'd all be out the back drinking cider and discussing butter. Clearly a myth."
Posted by Tony.T at April 14, 2005 12:04 PM

I'm going to try to sample all on the list, and Lucky Jim.
It's interesting that Douglas Adams wasn't mentioned in the comments.
My funniest #1 is probably Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut. Though these things depend on the moment.
(I once read Pride and Prejudice and that particluar time laughed all the way through for some reason).
("The holiday" is a sort of impressionistic tale with a mix of whimsy and melancholy.)
I saw the TV show of Darling Buds of May and enjoyed it - I'll seek out the book.

I like discussing cider. I'm a myth.
Posted by boynton at April 14, 2005 12:43 PM

Well, you're Myth Boynton to me, alright.
Posted by I.Buttrose at April 14, 2005 04:45 PM

Too much cider and Myth B is certainly amiss.

btw: "Whose cruel idea was it for the word "lisp"
to have an "s" in it?"
(via Dick Jones.)
Posted by boynton at April 14, 2005 05:11 PM

Hey there’s heaps of wonderful, if not utterly transcendently funny novels in the English language. I scarcely know where to begin. But here’s a few that immediately come to mind

“Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog)” by Jerome K. Jerome.
“…and George, who would not be able to get away from the City till the afternoon (George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two), would meet us there.”

And here it is online, Tone T, at:
I reckon you’d really like it.

“Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh (“…but up to a point, Lord Copper”)
It starts with “"Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole..." -then insert scathing satire about Western journalists abroad - and then close with ""Outside the owls hunted maternal rodents and their furry brood."

“Tin Men” by Michel Frayn
“And this is a table, ma'am [Your Majesty]. What in essence it consists of is a horizontal rectilinear plane surface maintained by four vertical columnar supports, which we call legs. The tables in this laboratory, ma'am, are as advanced in design as one will find anywhere in the world.”

And so many more. “The Bear Comes Home” by Rafi Zabor, “Boone” by Brooks Hansen and “Let’s Put The Future Behind Us” by Jack Womack, to name just a smidgeon.

"L*lita", "Pale Fire" and Pnin" are also a bit of a laff riot if yer in the mood.

However I'd put my hand for a small but growing group of people who think "Confederency Of Dunces" is just sub-JP Donleavey, who was pretty overrated himself, and by himself. Also I reckon Flann O'Brien's novels were overblown too. His funniest work was as Myles A Gopeen.

Honou'ble mention here for Spike Milligan's "Puckoon". Wasn't much of a novel but by the Pope's bollocks, it was fuckin' drop dead funny in places...and with some surprisingly moving pathos as well.

Anyway, fuck this. I'm off now to do shadow puppet origami with a sturdily bound copy of "Tristam Shandy. Gent." It's what someone would have wanted.. if they'd thought of it. (And for a reasonable fee, they can!)
Posted by Nabakov at April 14, 2005 09:38 PM

Disappointed that you didn't include any Henry James...

Thanks, Nabakov. Will look into those.

I like the way Brad Zellar writes about the scarcely possible process of compiling such a list that seems to be a funny sort of staple in the b'sphere.
It always feels off the top of the head, or a rememberance of moods past. That 'best' thing is such a provisional beast.
But the assorted recommendations are interesting.
& "Open All Night" is a great blog btw.
Posted by boynton at April 14, 2005 10:38 PM

Hey B-Girl, stop blogging and read "Three Men In A Boat" right now. Then consider that Fairfield Boating House is only a thrown dog bone away.
Posted by Nabakov at April 14, 2005 11:18 PM

OK, N-man

I happen to have a non-digital copy at hand, so shall do. asap.
Posted by boynton at April 15, 2005 04:11 PM

nice choices Nabakov, +ve and -ve.
I'll specially second Scoop, also Decline and Fall.

Not really novels, but: Stephen Potter on Gamesmanship - The Thurber Carnival, especially 'The Night The Bed Fell', Woody Allen's 'Without Feathers', and JOhn Lennon In His Own Write.
ooh, I'm off to reread Potter now. Stuff the rest of the vacuuming
Posted by laura at April 15, 2005 06:03 PM

Very funny clever bad intelligent and funny novel title 'Confessions Of A Southern Girlhood' by Florence King, clearly autobiographical and about the difficulty of being a highly intelligent woman in the smothering Southern culture - think Fran Leibowitz, Dottie Parker. Now I have to go and read it again . . . .
Posted by Brownie at April 17, 2005 12:58 PM

Thanks for those suggestions.
btw In His Own write - is online - but perhaps shouldn't be...
Posted by boynton at April 17, 2005 03:11 PM

"...about the difficulty of being a highly intelligent woman in the smothering Southern culture "

And then check out "In the Land of Dreamy Dreams" by Ellen Gilchrist. Angela Carter with a Head tennis racket clenched in one hand, seeing red (or deep deep moss green).

More great funny novels.

"MASH" by Richard Hooker. Yes, before the film and theTV show, there was the book. Lotsa crap print sequels thereafter but the original book was some of best bawdy yet barbed humour I've come across.

"Semi-Tough" by Dan Jenkins. The MASH of US pro sports. Very funny and very bawdy too. I think the film version is also a very underated satire of America in the late seventies. And watching it now, you can see how Owen Wilson lifted a lot of his screen persona from the 70s Burt Reynolds.

"Felidae" by Akif Pirincci. Ostensibly a novel about a cat as a private eye. But I always thought Chandler and Hammett were really funny guys and a Turkish writer in Germany reworking their stuff with whiskers and fur is even funnier.

"The Space Merchants" by Fredrick Pohl and Cyril Kornbulth. Though dismissed as SF, it's a scathing (and bloody well written too) Swiftian satire that seems to be coming true 50 years after it was written.

"Downriver" by Iain Sinclair. Well I wept with laughter while reading it. But then some folks are sick aren't they? Or perhaps not sick enough? Whatever. Buy it and read it.
Posted by Nabakov at April 17, 2005 10:49 PM

Dan Jenkins is a riot - Tin Cup (absolutely not the film adaptation).
Posted by Brownie at April 18, 2005 12:43 AM

I was only thinking of funny women (- Clare Booth Luce 'The Women'! of course!) BUT Dan Greenberg "What Do Women Really Want" c.1970 - was convulsively funny.
Posted by Brownie at April 18, 2005 12:47 AM

Thanks again. This is almost a list waiting for a syllabus.
I will check them out, literally.

"I used to read while I was waiting to take my tennis lessons. It used to drive my tennis teacher crazy. Instead of watching the other players or something, I’d be reading The Brothers Karamazov or something while I was waiting to take my tennis lesson, and he didn’t think I was serious about tennis, but I was"
Ellen Gilchrist.
Posted by boynton at April 18, 2005 09:25 AM

Lorrie Moore pre- Birds of America; Eudora Welty; the wonderful Pam Houston -- there's an excerpt from her best story "How To Talk To a Hunter" (from COWBOYS ARE MY WEAKNESS), here:

If you want the rest, I have a copy handy, will post.
Posted by wen at April 20, 2005 07:55 PM

Looks like it's another walk down to the Library.
Posted by boynton at April 21, 2005 10:37 AM

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