On a lighter note, this month’s reading group theme is humour, and so I’ve spent some time scouring the library shelves for something of a lighter nature. However, recent comedy books (John O’Farrell, Joshua Ferris) all seemed to have thirty-something casts that didn’t quite appeal, which is why I turned to a familiar name – Nick Hornby, and a story about suicide – A Long Way Down.
I did have my doubts about this from the start, but the first few pages, in which four characters choose the same time and place to end their lives, were in Hornby’s usual engaging style and most certainly comical, and so to my surprise I found myself hooked. For a while the main characters (a gruesomely tanned celeb who has fallen from grace, a manic and foul-mouthed teenager, a lady grown old before her time through caring for a disabled son and a failed musician) did seem a little two-dimensional, but Hornby quickly shows us all is not as simple as it might seem for any of them. He also finds a couple of good plot twists to move things along when it looks like the story might shudder to a halt, and manages to work out a satisfactory endng without resorting to anything too pat. Not one of Hornby’s best, but a good read from a pretty challenging premise.
Talking to other group members, we’ve all come up against the problem of what is regarded as a funny book. Straight away there are different kinds of funny: funny poignant, funny satirical, funny ironical. Then there’s schoolboy hunmour, graveyard humour, black humour, slapstick … But it’s harder, I think, to find pure comedy in what we read compared to looking for , say, a comedy in the theatre or on T.V. Few novels, when it comes down to it, have no humour at all (thank goodness) and few are pure comedy – or perhaps they’re just not to my taste.
As well as Hornby, other old favourites of mine are David Lodge and Barbara Pym, but looking for somerthing new, my other ‘humour’ choice was Alison Wonderland, kindly sent by Helen Smith. With a light touch and quirky characters this has a cartoonish quality with many comic touches, but still satisfies in the portrayal of the main character and her journey to some unexpected places, not least her final destination.
A final thought. P.G. Wodehouse really was (and still is) a comic genius. His golf stories still makes me laugh. Or would do if golf weren’t such a serious matter.