Mark Leidner: Anti-myth myth-making

Returning the Sword to the Stone, the title of Mark Leidner’s newest collection, gestures to renunciation, or reversal, and the invocation of myth is developed by a line within the poem itself: ‘removing royalty from your bloodline by returning the sword to the stone’. The notion of reversing or undercutting myth threads throughout the collection,… Continue reading Mark Leidner: Anti-myth myth-making

Dead Souls

A satire on the cultural sector, which uses humour to play with ideas about literary convention and value, Dead Souls is also a series of philosophical enquiries, with plagiarism the preeminent theme. Set in a slightly warped world where poetry has become immensely lucrative, the novel explores the case of a plagiarising poet, Solomon Wiese, publicly shamed… Continue reading Dead Souls

Paul Beatty: Unmitigated Blackness

Paul Beatty is a hugely significant comic writer: one of only a few contemporary novelists whose work is consistently satirical. His most recent novel, The Sellout, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2016, shares DNA with other irreverent, iconoclastic masterpieces like Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five. The novel traces the tribulations of his protagonist,… Continue reading Paul Beatty: Unmitigated Blackness

Comic naivety in George Saunders’s ‘Ghoul’

The pleasure we find in naivety is complex: it’s partly superiority at a lack of social sophistication or adroitness about social conventions, and partly relief at the failure to maintain those norms – a chance to vicariously share in a momentary respite from the ceaseless self-consciousness and responsiveness required of us as social creatures. There’s… Continue reading Comic naivety in George Saunders’s ‘Ghoul’

Fake Accounts: irony and the aesthetics of alienation

A brilliantly funny novel, in its mordant fashion, Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts is also very engaged with the implications of humour in contemporary online culture. The specific conditions of the internet – the size of the networks involved, and anonymity of those networks - have meant that the potential scale and real-world impact of inside… Continue reading Fake Accounts: irony and the aesthetics of alienation

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: a new Gulliver

Attuned now to literature which is markedly comic, I wasn’t drawn by the accounts I’d read of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, which emphasised its philosophical intent, and suggested a risk of ponderousness. I was wrong, however, because while the novel is certainly philosophical, it is also very funny.  And if philosophy seems incompatible with humour, then beauty… Continue reading Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: a new Gulliver

Comedy and cancel culture

Questioning liberal orthodoxy is a formidable prospect given the inevitability of outrage. But as we risk sliding into coercive ideological conformity, opening up space for debate is surely a matter of some urgency. Comedy is one place where such issues can be raised and explored in relative safety, and two recent instances, Leigh Stein’s satirical… Continue reading Comedy and cancel culture

Self Care

Leigh Stein’s satirical novel, Self Care, is both consistently funny and compulsively readable. It’s also very important. An account of a startup, ‘Richual’, a community platform ‘for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves’, the novel traces the increasingly panicked travails of the two female co-founders, Maren and… Continue reading Self Care

Flake: celebrating small pleasures

Matthew Dooley’s Flake, a graphic novel about the ice cream van business in the north west of England, recently won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, the first graphic novel to do so in the history of the prize. It’s an affectionate and very funny portrait of Howard, an ice cream man who rather half-heartedly… Continue reading Flake: celebrating small pleasures

Milkman: humour in a traumatised society

Critics have frequently commended the humour of Anna Burns’s Milkman (2018), but beyond descriptions of the novel as ‘charmingly wry’ (New Yorker) or ‘darkly comic’ (The Telegraph), there has been little real insight into the part humour plays. This critical disinterest in humour - particularly in literature-  is widespread, partly because comedy has long been seen as a mere add-on or… Continue reading Milkman: humour in a traumatised society