Category Archives: Comedy

Something Borrowed (Brenda & Effie Mystery #2)

Something Brrowedby Paul Magrs

I picked up this particular little gem in a charity shop, not realising at the time that it is, in fact, the second in a series. I only realised this when I came to read it. Normally, I would have put it aside until I could get hold of the preceding book, but as I also realised it was set in the seaside town of Whitby, a place I was due to visit that very week, I decided to plough on regardless.

Something Borrowed mixes gothic horror, fantasy and comedy to produce a tale that is both ludicrous and compelling. Not having read the first book (soon to be rectified) I was a little behind with Brenda and Effie’s story, but Magrs (pronounced Mars apparently) very thoughtfully included enough references to the two ladies’ first adventure (Never The  Bride) that I was very soon fairly up to date. In Brenda and Effie Magrs has created two wonderfully idiosyncratic characters who manage to blunder their way through a plot full of overflowing with vampires, zombies, stray body parts and a set of possessed furniture, all set against the gothic spookiness of Whitby.

Thanks to Bram Stoker, this busy little seaside town has become something of a mecca for fans of the gothic tradition. The swirling mists that often shroud the imposing Abbey, its narrow alleys and steep, winding pathways, make it the perfect setting for tales of possession and devilment. In Something Borrowed the town itself is as much a character as Brenda and Effie and their assorted friends and foes.

Something Borrowed has all the elements of a good old fashioned horror story, told with a wonderful comic twist that makes it a very entertaining and unique read. At times I was reminded of watching those old black and white movies that are now more amusing than they are terrifying. 

Brenda is one of those characters who leap out of the page and demand your attention – and affection. I can almost picture myself enjoying coffee and a cake with her in the Walrus and Carpenter. Her straight talking honesty and her strength of character make her a compelling narrator as she and Effie face a demon from Brenda’s murky past. 

There is also the question of the poison pen letters that have been dropping through people’s letterboxes. Who would write such horrible things? And who, or what, is haunting Brenda every night with their incessant tappings and scrapings? And why has Henry Cleavis turned up here and now, dragging up long-forgotten memories and feelings?

Read and all will be revealed.

Something Borrowed has everything I could want from a book – captivating characters, recognisable setting, great plot and plenty of humour, all told with style and wit. I will definitely be reading Brenda and Effie’s debut, and am looking forward to the rest of their crazy adventures. 

 

Quartet in Autumn

Quartet in Autumnby Barbara Pym

A classic from the late 1970s, Quartet in Autumn is a light and amusing tale of four co-workers, drifting towards and into retirement. Edwin, Norman, Marcia and Letty share an office in an undisclosed London office block. Each is alone, either by choice or circumstances and none have any plans or ambitions for their futures. With retirement just around the corner, time is running out. 

The story meanders between the four characters, delving into their lives in a way the characters themselves seem unwilling or unable to do. There is no question of their friendships going beyond the confines of the office, yet surely, no one understands their situations better they each other?

I really enjoyed this gently and mildly amusing foray into the lives of these four over 60s. Each desperately hanging onto their independence and their pasts. But it is the shared sense of loneliness that makes the book so appealing. So often I wanted to reach out to them and point out that there is someone who cares and they are sitting right across from them. 

It is rather sad in a way, but I enjoyed their individual stories and the way Barbara Pym injected her subtle humour into even the most poignant and sad moments. Although there are some elements of the story that are very much of the time, the problem of loneliness in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities is as true today as it was then. 

This is the first Pymnovelk that I have read and I am sure it won’t be the last.

The One Plus One

One Plus Oneby Jojo Moyes

Having previously read several Jojo Moyes books I was pretty sure what to expect – captivating characters, a great plot and quality writing. And that is exactly what I got. The plot itself is typical rom-com fodder, but the important thing is the way it is told. Jojo Moyes has the ability to make her characters come to life on the page. 

We all know how hard it can be to recover when life when knocks us down, and how difficult it can be to retain our optimism when you feel that universe is conspiring against us. But that eternal optimism despite everything life has thrown at her is what makes the leading lady, Jess Thomas, such an endearing character. Despite having to hold down two jobs to keep her and her two children fed and watered, she remains confident that things will get better. 

On the other hand, Ed Nichols has it all: the perfect job, a flat in London, a holiday home by the sea, his own company and, on the face of it, a bright future.

But all is not as it seems, and that is where the story begins. 

The One Plus One is a modern love story with just a hint of the Romeo and Juliet about it. But like all good books, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. Jess’s optimism is tested to its limits by the circumstances of a life she no longer seems to have any control over. But it is that very “silver lining” approach that turns Ed’s life around. As he faces losing everything he has ever worked for, seeing at first hand Jess’s determination to do the best for her children is something of a revelation. He begins to realise that for one he has the opportunity to do some real good, to do something that will improve the life of someone else.

It doesn’t hurt that on their journey – physical and metaphorical – they find themselves growing ever closer.

For me, Jojo Moyes is one of those writers that can turn a seemingly simple tale into something quite deep and inspiring. Her characters are easily identifiable and I can’t help feeling some empathy towards them and their plights. Whilst tragedy is always at the heart of a good novel, particularly a love story like this one, humour is also a key element, and in The One Plus One Jojo Moyes gets the balance just right. It is witty, absorbing and a joy to read. 

 

 

 

The House of Sleep

by Jonathan Coe

Coe is a favourite of my wife’s, but I have never actually read any of his work myself before. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the cover promised me something “hilarious and devastating”; what I got some was something mildly interesting and eventually amusing. 

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book because I did. But not because of the plot, which I found contrived and lacking in focus. I found some of the characters to be extremely engaging and the twist in the tale unexpected but welcome. Describing this book as hilarious is really stretching it. In fact, it barely raised an amused smile until over halfway through when started to get into his stride.

The plot revolves around a group of students, each with their own issue around sleep and dreams. Misunderstandings and madness give the tale an interesting and unusual twist, but for me, the real meat of the story came too late to fully rescue the book. 

The House of Sleep is not one of the better books I have read recently. It was not a bad book, but it simply wasn’t as good as it could have been. In the hands of someone like Tom Sharpe, this story could have been a real gem. 

 

Sense and Sensibility (The Austen Project #1)

by Joanna Trollope

Sense and SensibilityThis was the first book of the Austen Project which sees contemporary writers revisit Jane Austen’s timeless stories. And the one thing that the project proves, to me at least, is just how timeless Austen’s work really is. Obviously there have to be some changes to the plot and, in some cases, characterisations, but on the whole, the stories stand up well to being dragged into the twenty-first century.

Elinore and Marianne Dashwood’s story is one of Austen’s most endearing tales. thrown out of their childhood home the family find themselves dependent on the charity of relatives in Devon. Far from their friends and relatives, the Dashwoods are going to have to make some serious changes if they are to survive. But while Marianne wears her all-too-fragile heart on her sleeve, falling in love with the dashing Joh  Willoughby on first sight, her sister Elinor’s heart is much harder to find and even harder to win. 

Bringing the wonderful cast of characters up to date was particularly tricky in this book, so dependent on 19th-century manners and rules of inheritance, but Joanne Trollope pulls it off with real panache. The characters are still very true to Austen’s originals, and the tweaks and twists necessary to make the plot work in the modern age work well.

Whilst I don’t think any adaptation is ever going to match the wit and insight of the original, I have enjoyed each of the books in the series so far. I suppose that by getting such well-established authors as Joanne Trollope involved guarantees a high standard. 

A really good read.

 

Lost In A Good Book

Lost In A Good Bookby Jasper Fforde

I sometimes find myself wondering what is going through an author’s mind when they plat and write a novel. In Jasper Fforde’s case, it is probably best we don’t know.

For the second in his Thursday Next series, Fforde takes us even further into the strange and wonderful world where characters can move between stories and a police force exists to keep the stories in good order. This is also a world where Mammoths roam the English countryside, Dodos are popular household pets and the very idea of supersonic flight is, well, just plain daft.

Thursday Next is our guide for this journey through a world almost as batty as our own. Thursday is a Literary Detective working for SpecOps-27. Her previous success in saving Jane Eyre (see The Eyre Affaire) has made her something of a celebrity, thrusting her into a seemingly endless round of interviews and meet-and-greets. But if she thought that killing the evil Hades was an end to her adventures inside books.

But what is bad news for Thursday is good news for us. If things had ended there then Lost IN A Good book would have just become me of those forgotten stories languishing in the Well of Lost Plots (this will make sense if you read the book).

The story follows on immediately after the equally madcap “The Eyre Affaire”. Thursday herself is trying to balance her newfound celebrity status with her day job solving crimes against literature. And she seems to be managing OK. That is until she and her partner are sent to investigate a claim that a previously unknown Shakespeare play has been discovered in a private collection. IN her role as a Literary Detective such claims are bread and butter cases, but when it turns out to be true, events begin to take some rather unexpected turns. Add to this the fact that she seems to have become the target of agents from Goliath, the country’s largest and most sinister conglomerate, and also fro, the Hades family, Thursday’s life has just got very complicated indeed. 

Lost In A Good Book is a comic adventure that manages to combine the best elements of traditional crime fiction with one of the most twisted and hilarious plots I have read for a long time. To fully appreciate Jasper Fforde’s humour you need to be prepared to suspend belief and be prepared to follow whichever twisted path the plot decides to take. And I can assure you it is well worth the effort.

Admittedly, this kind of surreal nonsense is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if, like me, you enjoy the rather crazy worlds created by Tom Holt and Terry Pratchett, then Jasper Fforde is right up your street.

 

 

The Hole Opportunity

The Hole OpportunityBy James Minter

OK, this might be just me but can anyone else the link between the title, the author and a distinctly shaped mint? No? Just me then.

This is the first part of a self-published “Hole” trilogy by James Minter, in which we are introduced to the eclectic, and at times eccentric characters who inhabit the rural village of Henslow. Very much at the centre of the hole business (no, that’s not an error, you’ll get the joke in a moment) is Colin Griggs and his wife Izzy. Frustrated with the red tape that threatens to permanently tie up small modern farmers, Colin decides to leave behind several generations of traditional farming and establish his new business: Hole Farming.

No, don’t even try to work it out. It makes absolutely no sense, which is very much at the heart of why the book works so well. The idea of farming holes feeds very well into Colin’s ineptitude. He means well and has all very good intentions, but a mixture of circumstances, misunderstandings and an overzealous local reporter result in a series of unexpected and inexplicable events that would have made Tom Sharpe proud.

The chaos begins when Colin gets the contract to supply the local Golf Club with 18 holes for their newly refurbished course. Why they have found themselves with no holes on the greens just a week from the official opening is one of those questions you shouldn’t ask. Being new to the whole hole farming business Colin decides to employ a warren of rabbits to dig the holes for him. There is just one small problem: rabbits are very good at digging holes, but no one has told them when to stop. What follows is as inevitable as it is hilarious.

And that is just the beginning.

The Hole Opportunity is a farcical look at rural life in an old English county. It is clever and very funny. The characters are perfectly matched to the situations they find themselves in, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole mixed up adventure.

My only criticism, and it is only a minor point really, is that it would benefit from a once-over by a good editor. There are some sudden leaps in narrative and a few points where the story loses some of its natural flow. But these are minor points and don’t distract from the humour and fun of the story.

It is a great book and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Colin and Izzy Griggs.

Nutshell

Nutshellby Ian McEwan

Trudy is separated from her husband, John, and is living in the matrimonial home with his brother Claude, carrying John’s baby, as they plot to murder said husband, John.

It would be a love triangle, but with the narrator of this particular tale being the unborn baby, it gets a little complicated – more of a love rectangle!

Nutshell is an original concept, although the plot itself is extremely simple. In fact, the story is little more than an outline. It is the narration by the un-named unborn child that pushes the book within a whisker of 200 pages.

There is plenty of humour and just a touch of suspense. Will they or won’t they go through with the planned homicide of Trudy’s estranged husband? Can a pair of drunks really manage the perfect murder? Will the unborn narrator be born at Her Majesty’s Pleasure? Will he ever know his father? 

I found the whole thing a little strange and I’m still undecided about whether I enjoyed it or not. It is at times very funny and is an easy read. The plot does not challenge in any way and there are very few characters to keep a track of. But for me there was far too much waffle and not enough substance. 

The Tent, the Bucket and Me

by Emma Kennedy

The Tent, The Bucket and MeSubtitled “My Family’s Disastrous Attempts to go Campaign in the 70s”, Emma Kennedy’s memoir of her family holidays in the 1970s is as hilarious as it is nostalgic.

The 70s were a decade of social and economic change. It was the decade that gave us disco, punk, strikes and Margaret Thatcher. It also opened up the world with package holidays becoming more affordable. But for the Kennedy’s holidays were under canvass and thoughts of flights to the sun drenched Spanish beaches were definitely off the agenda. 

Using her own memories and those of her parents, Emma Kennedy’s stories of disaster and embarrassment are a kind of moral tale. There but for the grace of God…

As you move from one holiday to the next, from floods and gales on the Welsh coast to food poisoning and man-eating toilets in France, the reader is left under no illusion about the tricks that the malevolent holiday gods have played on this poor unfortunate family. Basically, if it can go wrong, it will, and most probably has!

The Tent, the Bucket Me is a very appropriate title for this hilarious, slapstick account of a family who really should have stayed at home. As a comedian, Emma knows what it takes to take her audience with her. I think most of us can find at least one parallel with our own holiday experiences in this book. Whilst not all of us can claim to have fallen into a French toilet or watched as a caravan is blown over a cliff, we can all relate to the feelings of doom and despair as we watch a family take once disastrous turn or another. From broken down vehicles tro ghosts in the attic, the Tent, the Bucket and Me, is a tour-de-force of wit and farce. Reading it whilst away just made me appreciate my own holiday even more.

Whilst I can’t claim to be too familiar with her act or TV appearances, this book has proven Emma Kennedy to have the observational skills and genuine wit that make this one of the funniest books I have read for a while. The TV adaptation does not do it justice. 

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s, this book also offers a reminder of a world of change and ambition, where anything was possible. Who will ever forget the impact of the original Star Wars movie, or the girls breaking out into floods of tears over Donny Osmond’s marriage? Ah, the memories…

A Far Cry from Kensington

A Far Cry from Kensingtonby Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark is probably best known for her novel The Prime Of Miss Jean Brody. It was made into a TV series, and is considered in some circles to be a modern classic. I must admit that when I purchased this particular book I hadn’t made the connection.

A Far Cry From Kensington displays great wit and charm. It is a relatively short (190 pages) and uncomplicated story about life in the world of 1950s publishing. By uncomplicated I mean it has an easy flow with no sudden swerves or change of direction. As far as the characters are concerned, it is far from uncomplicated.

The book has a friendly and at times informal style as its narrator, Mrs Hawkins, looks back at a year in which her life changed dramatically. It is 1954 and London is still scarred by war.With rationing only just coming to an end, Mrs Hawkins, a 28-year-old war widow, is living frugally but conformably in a furnished room in a quiet corner of Kensington. The tenants each have their own eccentricities but there is an air of companionship between them that makes it sound homelier that might otherwise be the case when a group of strangers find themselves living under one roof.

Mrs Hawkins has respectable job working for a publisher, but all is not well and there is an uncertainty in the air about the company’s future. Then, on her way into work one morning she has an unexpected meeting with one Hector Bartlett that will change everything. In fact, this meeting costs her two jobs and makes the obnoxious would-be writer a thorn in Mrs Hawkins’ side for many years to come.

The book has some wonderful characters and the vagueness of some of Mrs Hawkins’ memories is actually quite refreshing. I have never been a fan of first-person narratives, due mainly, I think, to the certain knowledge that I could never recall past events with such clarity. It is a light-hearted look at life during a period of profound change. Britain was on the cusp of a revolution in music, social attitudes and economic prosperity, but the characters and situations portrayed in this story are comfortingly old-fashioned. 

I found the style of the narrative refreshingly honest and just loved the character of Mrs Hawkins. A good, unchallenging holiday read.