Five Novels I’ve Read that Made Me Laugh

I’m not a laugh out loud kind of reader, shying away from novels whose blurbs suggest that kind of jollity although I do let fly the odd snigger now and again. I’m partial to a bit of smartarse humour but what most appeals is satire. If done well, ridicule is one of the most effective ways to make a few serious poiints. Cover image for The Waiter by Matias Feldbakken The five novels below include a couple that do the job brilliantly while some are simply straightforwardly funny, all have links to reviews on the blog.

Matias Faldbakken’s The Waiter falls into the straightforwardly comic category. The titular protagonist sees himself as a facilitator alert to diners’ needs, proud of his work at The Hills, an Oslo institution reminiscent of grand Viennese cafes. He’s an observer, more than a little judgemental in his assessment of his customers, and something of a neurotic, thrown into a tizzy when things aren’t just so. The appearance of a young woman he dubs the Child Lady throws a spanner into his carefully maintained works. Over the next few days, one regular becomes disconcertingly familiar, another orders his meal backwards and our usually punctilious waiter makes several mistakes, a few worryingly deliberate. There are some wonderfully slapstick episodes in this entertaining novel including the Waiter’s collapse in the face of an appalling lapse in sartorial taste while under the influence of far too many espressos.

Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier pleasingly ridicules the perennial problem of racism. It’s the story of the eponymous Not Sidney whose Cover image prescient mother invested in Ted Turner’s broadcasting company, leaving him already rich at the age of seven when she dies. The grateful Turner takes him in, setting him up with his own staff in a wing of the Turner mansion. Aged fifteen, Not Sidney decides to drive to Los Angeles, the first in a series of episodes which sees his name and race landing him in constant trouble. He’s an engaging narrator, sharp yet naïve, intelligent and cultivated in stark contrast with the ignorant bigots he encounters, convinced of their own superiority despite all evidence to the contrary. A very funny novel with serious points entertainingly made.

Coer image As a fellow academic, Everett would probably appreciate Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members made up of letters from the office of Jason T. Fitger, long-suffering Professor of Creative Writing and English, who spends an inordinate amount of time writing letters of recommendation. Interspersed with these are pleas for funding for his advisee Darren Browles, close to the end of his retelling of Melville’s Bartleby in which the titular hero is employed as an accountant in a brothel, a work of genius according to Fitger. Threads of Fitger’s past run through the letters: professional repercussions from old affairs; his early flash of literary success and his incontinent use of his personal life as material for his novels. Schumacher’s book is very funny indeed. Even as a bystander on the sidelines of academic life, I winced in recognition at some of it.

Plenty of smirk material in Jen Beagin’s smart, funny debut, Pretend I’m Dead, which follows twenty-four-year-old Mona who cleans houses for a living and falls hard for a junkie, taking herself off to Taos, New Mexico when he disappears. Nothing much happens in Beagin’s novel: it’s all about the characters, not least Mona from whose sharply sardonic perspective the novel unfolds. Little bombs are dropped into the narrative revealing a childhood that has led her to jump to dark conclusions about her clients. There are some great slapstick moments and it’s stuffed with pithy one-liners. I loved this novel with its dark, witty and confident writing.

Cover image for Look Who's Back by Timor Vermes In Timur Vermes’ Look Who’s Back Adolf Hitler wakes up with a dreadful headache, bemused to find that it’s August 30th 2011. He’s at a loss to know what’s happened but before long he has his own TV show. The trouble is, nobody gets it: viewers think he’s particularly edgy comic, he thinks he’s launching a campaign to restart National Socialism. Satire can often go horribly wrong but Vermes carries it off beautifully, chucking lampoons in all directions and almost always hitting his mark. Horribly plausible, Hitler spends much of his time in a state of furious astonishment at the idiocy of the modern world. Hats off to translator Jamie Bulloch, not just for an excellent translation but also for his short essay on the novel’s historical and political context.

Any novels that have made you laugh you’d like to share?

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37 thoughts on “Five Novels I’ve Read that Made Me Laugh”

  1. What a fun post. I can’t think of any laughter books I’ve read recently just now but what immediately comes to mind is when BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY was first published and my kids (now well grown up!) bought it for me. I started reading it on a plane as were were setting off on holiday and laughed so much the teens were acutely embarrassed by me. Shhhush, Mum!! Which made it all the more funny 🙂

  2. I’ve read Beagin’s latest recently (Big Swiss) – it’s brilliantly funny. I love her sense of humour.
    I’ve read the Schumacher – I recall enjoying it but not sure I laughed out loud. And I have Look Who’s Back in the TBR stack – one to look forward to now that you have endorsed it 🙂

  3. I second I Am Not Sidney Poitier, it was a fantastic book and so funny. Also recommend The Last Samurai which makes me happy every time I read it, always gives me a giggle. Nicola Barker novels can often be humorous as well, in a kind of black way.

  4. The Waiter sounds like great fun (for some reason reminding me of Bemelmans’ Hotel Splendide), as does Dear Committee Members and Look Who’s Back. I have been reading (or at least have read the first) of a YA duology in an alternative scenario where Hitler won the war (unsettling and powerful), this sounds like a very different take.

  5. I’m not a big reader of comic novels but I do enjoy them at times. The only one of these I’ve read is the Vermes which was so clever. I’ll look out for the others! Like Mallika, Wodehouse makes me laugh, and the Mapp & Lucia novels. More recently Patrick DeWitt makes me smile – Small Frank 😀

  6. “Dear Committee Members” and “I Am Not Sidney Poitier” both speak to me, and have been doing so for a while. Your write-up here reminds me to get copies for my TBR table, especially for when I need a funny read! I’ve read that Percival Everett’s new book “James” coming in 2024 rewrites Huckleberry Finn from the enslaved Jim’s point of view. I’m anticipating and hopeful for more of his same whip-smart humor that I found in “Trees.” Finally, one of my most memorably funny good reads is “Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem. I wanted to share it with a friend, and so started reading the first two pages out loud, but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t continue!

    1. Thanks so much for the Lethem tip. His Brooklyn Crime Novel is published here later in the year and on my list. I’ll add Motherless Brooklyn, too. I’m so pleased Everett is being recognised in the UK. I discovered his fiction on holiday in the States years ago and have been frustrated at its non availability here.

  7. I rarely enjoy books that set out to be funny, with the exception of Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat, but enjoy being surprised into laughter in an otherwise “serious” book. I’m currently reading Walter Scott’s The Antiquary and realising I always forget how much humour there is along the way in Scott’s novels.

  8. I Am Not Sidney Poitier is the one that leaps out at me here. It’s been on my wishlist ever since Naomi and Kirsty talked about it on their Late To It Podcast a few years ago, and I’ve been meaning to get a copy of it since. Thanks for the reminder. Barbara Pym’s books often make me laugh. Not in a laugh-out-loud/ROFL way, but I do find her brand of social comedy very perceptive and amusing!

    1. I read some Pym when I was much too young to appreciate it, Jacqui. Must try her again. I’ve just finished The Trees and although I enjoyed it I didn’t think it was as good as I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Glad to hear that had a little boost from Naomi and Kirsty.

  9. Reading your post makes me realise I don’t often read books that make me laugh. Though I am quite happy to be made laugh by books. I remember your highlighting The Waiter before, it sounds really good.

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