Sunday, 13 May 2012

Oh Happy Days. Some Funny Books At Last.

A fellow blogger and metal detecting enthusiast John Winter (you can find his excellent blog down there on the right) asked me the other day if I read mostly female authors. I can understand him thinking this as I've recently reviewed books by Caroline Smailes, Ann Weisberger, Nicola May,Talli Roland, Meg Rosoff and Rachel Joyce on this blog. But in the last twelve months my favourite books have also included Pigeon English, The White Tiger, We The Drowned, Florence And Giles and Homer And Langley all of which were written by men. And by pure coincidence, both the novels I read this week have male authors.




I've grumbled so often about the lack of funny books that I started to wonder if I had lost my sense of humour. All the "I nearly wet myself ", "tears were streaming down my face" and "I almost died laughing" quotes on the fronts and backs of novels might muster a glimmer of a smile at best. There's one author on Twitter who, almost every day, quotes that a famous comic found his book hilarious - it's a pleasant enough read but he got me to buy it under false pretences. 


Well, finally, here's one that does exactly what it says on the tin (that would get the narrator's back up).


Driving Jarvis Ham by Jim Bob opens with "Would you drink a pint of your own piss?", a brilliant line but one that might deter the more sensitive reader. But, sensitive reader - any reader,  I urge you to proceed beyond this and the increasingly gross challenges that Jarvis and our narrator are discussing in one of their "in car" games and enjoy an extremely funny tale of a childhood friendship that came about one day at school and continued for the next thirty years. Jarvis is a Princess Diana obsessive, wannabe actor, wannabe pop star, wannabe anything famous. He's got none of the attributes that might give him even a smidgeon of a chance to realise those dreams - his classmates called him "balloon head", he can't sing and he can't act but somehow, our narrator, his only friend, sticks with him and indulges him with lifts to his no hope auditions and am-dram flops. 


Something more sinister lurks beneath Jarvis' loser existence as the novel develops through a clever combination of diaries and other mementos some discovered by his friend, some written by him. I love the friendly narrative conversational style. There are also some brilliant illustrations that alone would justify a "laugh out loud" quote on the back (although there are more than enough laughs even without them). Our narrator earns a living writing funny one-liners for Christmas crackers, fortune cookies and church posters (ruining my long held belief that the vicar at our local Methodist church must be Southport's funniest man)  and he relates the story with wonderful humour and style. Do read it - if you buy the electronic edition you even get four free songs by Jim Bob to download and enjoy. 



Having finally found one very funny book it would be too much to ask to read another in the same week wouldn't it but Michael Frayn's Skios is just that - a very funny book. Nikki is busily organising a big event for a charitable foundation on a beautiful Greek island. Fifty something Dr Norman Wilfred is flying there to make the keynote speech whilst handsome young chancer Oliver Fox is also on his way to the island to take advantage of a sexy woman in a villa he's managed to cadge for a week from friends of his wealthy not quite ex-girlfriend. All the classic characters are in place for a farce.


And what a farce develops! When Oliver discovers that his conquest has missed her plane and spots Nikki at the airport waiting for Dr Wilfred it's an opportunity he can't resist and what follows is a delightful concoction of mixed up luggage, mistaken identity and wrong bedrooms against a backdrop of sunshine, shady politicians and some other dark goings on on the hillside. It's a credit to Michael Frayn that he has managed to put together what is effectively a theatrical farce into a novel and he has pulled it off quite perfectly right down to the minor characters that no farce would be complete without - in this case brothers Spiros and Stavros from Skios Taxis and their catchphrase "thirty two euros".


So that's two very different and very funny books in a week. Whilst a lot of Driving Jarvis Ham 's humour is in the writing and Skios' laughs come from the absurd situation both are hugely enjoyable reads.


I've got The Red House by Mark Haddon (another male author please note) to read now before starting on Middlesex for Scott Pack's book club experiment later in the week (see the link to the meandmybigmouth blog over on the right)