The Daily Mail has published a list of humorist Craig Brown’s 100 favorite books. He explains that these are not necesarily his picks for “greatest” books but those he most enjoyed reading and would recommend to a friend. It is roughly divided between fiction (including short story collections) and non-fiction. Nothing by Evelyn Waugh (nor by Graham Greene or Anthony Powell for that matter) is included but Waugh is mentioned as having been influenced by Saki’s short stories which is one of Brown’s choices.
In the diary section, Brown includes the Diaries of Auberon Waugh with this explanation:
Auberon Waugh’s fantasy diaries, published fortnightly in Private Eye from 1972 to 1985. They remain as outrageously comical today as they ever were – perhaps even more so as the passage of time has made his grotesque facsimiles of fading figures such as Captain Mark Phillips, Edward Heath and Jimmy Goldsmith more vivid than the originals. Fundamental to his strength as a satirist was, of course, his refreshing absence of good taste.
Auberon effectively gets a double since another of Brown’s picks is John Preston’s A Very English Scandal. This is about the Jeremy Thorpe affair in which he hired a hit man who bungled an assasination of a former lover. Auberon kept the story alive right through a trial. The book been adapted for a three-part TV series to air on BBC next month, according to Radio Times. See previous post.
A reader sent us a post by a blogger (Nigeness) who independently reached the same conclusion as Brown about the timeliness of Auberon’s diaries:
For bedtime reading, I recently plucked Auberon Waugh’s Four Crowded Years: Diaries, 1972-76 (Private Eye/ Andre Deutsch) off the shelf. It must be the best part of 40 years since I last looked at this collection, and I wasn’t at all sure it would still work – but I needn’t have worried: these ‘diaries’, set in a personal fantasy world loosely based on reality, are as funny as ever, yielding a laugh-aloud rate of at least once a page, which is very good going (if not terribly conducive to sleep). What’s more, the volume is illustrated by the great Nicolas Bentley, whose pictures perfectly fit Waugh’s humour, and it even has helpful footnotes to identify some of the forgotten figures of the Seventies. Amid all the comedy, there are moments of real insight and even foresight (I hesitate to say prophecy). As an equal-opportunities offender, the rectionary Waugh was very much in the vanguard.
After giving the example of a 1973 diary entry by Auberon recalling a 1970 article he wrote for the Times in which he offended Muslims and incited mobs to burn down the British Council library in Rawalpindi (and for which he was sacked), the blogger concludes:
A quarter of a century on, nothing has changed (for the better) on that front. But happily such serious matters don’t often impinge on Waugh’s comic world, one firmly based on the puncturing of self-importance and pomposity – neither of which is ever in short supply, especially in the worlds of politics and the ‘yarts’.
UPDATE (16 April 2018): Thanks to Dave Lull for sending the blogpost about Auberon Waugh’s diaries.