A lot of Australians are currently feeling very depressed after one of the longest, most vacuous, federal election campaigns in recent memory1. What we need now are some books to make us laugh2. Here are five books that have made me laugh out loud (or at least produced embarrassing muffled snorting noises, if I happened to be reading them on public transport).
1. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, featuring the eccentric Durrell family and the ridiculous situations they find themselves in, often caused by their various dogs, birds, snakes, scorpions and other animal companions. For example, here’s Roger the dog’s reaction to Mother’s elaborate new bathing-costume:
“He seemed to be under the impression that the bathing-costume was some sort of sea monster that had enveloped Mother and was now about to carry her out to sea. Barking wildly, he flung himself to the rescue, grabbed one of the frills dangling so plentifully round the edge of the costume and tugged with all his strength in order to pull Mother back to safety. Mother, who had just remarked that she found the water a little cold, suddenly found herself being pulled backwards. With a squeak of dismay she lost her footing and sat down heavily in two feet of water, while Roger tugged so hard that a large section of the frill gave way. Elated by the fact that the enemy appeared to be disintegrating, Roger, growling encouragement to Mother, set to work to remove the rest of the offending monster from her person . . . “
2. Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay, which I have previously gushed about here. The scene in which the siblings drive to Wales is especially funny.
3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and specifically, the story entitled Jesus Shaves, in which Mr Sedaris attends French classes in Paris, and his fellow students attempt to explain Easter, in their extremely limited French, to a Moroccan student:
“The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. ‘It is,’ said one, ‘a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit.’ She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
‘He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.’
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
‘He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.’
‘He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.’
‘He nice, the Jesus.’ “
Unable to translate complicated phrases such as “to give of yourself your only begotten son”, they end up talking about chocolate, which is delivered, of course, by “the rabbit of Easter”. Or rather, as it turns out, the bell of Rome.
There’s also a very funny story about young David’s battles with his speech therapist (although, as a trained speech pathologist, I have to emphasise that we’re not like that at all now).
4. King Dork by Frank Portman, which I don’t have in my possession, so I can’t provide any quotes, but I remember becoming helpless with laughter over the effort the teenage boys put into their band names and album concepts. Favourite band name: We Have Eaten All The Cake. (Unfortunately they don’t put as much effort into writing songs or rehearsing, so their first big gig is a disaster. I should also point out that parts of this novel, especially the conclusion, are not funny at all, although it’s also completely plausible that the narrator and his friend would be as unconcerned about these particular issues as they are.)
5. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, which I have written about here, is so full of hilarity that it’s impossible to choose just one scene. The cows, named Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless? Adam clettering the dishes with his twig? The Starkadders pushing each other down the well? The Quivering Brethren’s hymn-singing being conducted by the poker-wielding Brother Ambleforth? Seth lounging in doorways, with his shirt unbuttoned? Mr Mybug’s ludicrous theories about how all the Brontës’ novels were actually written by Branwell? Or those “finer passages”, helpfully marked by the author with one, two or three stars?
Of course, humour is completely subjective and dependent on context, so it’s possible you won’t find these books as amusing as I did. Please feel free to add your own funny book recommendations in the comments. We need all the laughter we can get around here.
- I couldn’t even bear to listen to the vote counting on the radio, so I spent Saturday night watching Series Two of The Thick of It. For those not familiar with this BBC production, it’s about a stupid, bigoted and hypocritical MP named Abbot, who’s inexplicably promoted far beyond his levels of competence into the Cabinet. Each episode involves his spin doctors running around, desperately trying to cover up his blunders. ↩
- so we don’t cry. ↩