What are (some of) the best comic novels?

From The Economist:

It’s a fraught business picking the funniest novels ever written, so we’re not going to. Instead, we’ve picked eight of the funniest, recognising that many, perhaps equally uproarious tales are not on the list. Nor are humorous books that aren’t novels—the works of S.J. Perelman and Stephen Potter, for example. Our comedic finalists range in age from nonagenarian (“Right Ho, Jeeves”) to teenaged (“Nature Girl”). Our geographic spread is less diverse. England is overrepresented, but so is Ukraine, which in 2019 elected its funniest citizen to be its president. We’ve followed each of the write-ups below with snippets from the book, which, we hope, will send you chuckling to the bookseller.

The Loved OneBy Evelyn Waugh. Back Bay Books; 176 pages; $16.99. Penguin; £9.99

The greatest comic novelist in English is Evelyn Waugh. But which is his funniest book? Many people favour his first, “Decline and Fall”; others tout “Scoop”, a satire of mid-20th-century journalism. But for sustained comic brilliance our vote goes to “The Loved One”, published in 1948. During the previous year Waugh had visited California, at the invitation of Hollywood studios. Tiring of agents and producers, he became fascinated by the local mortuary and embalming business. “The Loved One”, set in the Whispering Glades Memorial Park, was the result. The story concerns a doomed love affair between a failed poet, Dennis Barlow, and a prim funerary cosmetician, Aimée Thanatogenos. It’s a hilarious dissection of the English in Hollywood, of American business ethics and of Hollywood itself.

Snippet. The first description of Aimée:

“Her full face was oval, her profile pure and classical and light. Her eyes greenish and remote, with a rich glint of lunacy.”

A Confederacy of Dunces. By John Kennedy Toole. Grove Paperback; 416 pages; $16. Penguin; £16.99

The charms of Ignatius Reilly will be lost on some, but the protagonist of John Kennedy Toole’s novel is a comedic colossus. At odds with the modern world, this slothful behemoth of a man-boy farts, belches and bickers his way through a succession of lowly jobs in New Orleans to pay off his drunken mama’s debts, the erratic Mrs Reilly being his only consistent companion. The laughs are all in Ignatius’s haughty, misanthropic reflections on those unfortunate enough to come into his odorous orbit. Several publishers rejected Toole’s book—one reason why he committed suicide in 1969, aged only 31. It was due to the persistence of his mother Thelma, clearly a more capable woman than Mrs Reilly, that “A Confederacy of Dunces” was published 11 years later.

Snippet.  A policeman rides his motorcycle up a New Orleans street:

“The siren, a cacophony of twelve crazed bobcats, was enough to make suspicious characters within a half-mile radius defecate in panic and rush for cover. Patrolman Mancuso’s love for the motorcycle was platonically intense.”

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. By Helen Fielding. Penguin; 352 pages; $17. Picador; £9.99

Starting life as a newspaper column, the Bridget Jones novels of the 1990s spawned an entire genre, “chick lit”. Its heroines, like Bridget, are often SINBADS (Single Income, No Boyfriend and Absolutely Desperate). “Bridget Jones’s Diary” started the series, but its sequel, “The Edge of Reason” (published in 1999), is even funnier, partly because Bridget at least starts off with “boyfriends 1 (hurrah!)”, Mark Darcy. This allows Ms Fielding to get into Bridget’s pantomime of a love life that much quicker. Our heroine tries to be a liberated, independent woman, if fortified by chardonnay and self-help books. But too often she slips into slavish dependence on unsuitable men with questionable taste in jumpers. The enemy? Smug Married Girls. It’s not exactly radical feminism, but the combination persuaded women (and men) to buy Bridget Jones books in the millions. Box-office hits, starring Renée Zellweger (pictured), followed.

Snippet.  Bridget’s diary entries, Wednesday March 5th:

“7.08 pm  Am assured receptive, responsive woman of substance. My sense of self comes not from other people, but from…from…myself? That can’t be right.

7.09pm  Anyway. Good thing is am not obsessing about Mark Darcy. Am starting to detach.

7.15pm Goody, telephone! Maybe Mark Darcy!

Lucky Jim. By Kingsley Amis. NYRB Classics; 296 pages; $15.95. Penguin; £9.99

Kingsley Amis’s first novel is probably his best and certainly the funniest. Published in 1954, “Lucky Jim” established him as a leader of a new literary movement of “angry young men”. But the tone of “Lucky Jim” is not so much angry as irreverent and waspish. It chronicles the misadventures of an inept young history lecturer, Jim Dixon, in a provincial university in repressed, dreary post-war Britain. Academic life, amateur choirs and middle-class sexual mores are all skewered, often in hilarious set-pieces. Just as Bridget Jones inspired chick lit, “Lucky Jim” spawned the campus novel.

Snippet. Anxious to ingratiate himself with a professor, Dixon contemplates the title of his one academic article:

“It was a perfect title, in that it crystallised the article’s niggling mindlesness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.”

Link to the rest at The Economist