In a recent issue of The Times, their comedy critic Dominic Maxwell recommends a list of 10 books which he hopes will make readers laugh, as did he when he read them. Here’s the recommendation for one by Evelyn Waugh:
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)
Evelyn Waugh would go on to write books of greater heft, not least his war-inspired works Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour trilogy. Yet sod heft, let’s have some grimly glorious laughs. For sheer, pitiless, read-between-the-lines comedy, his debut, published when he was 24, takes some beating. The tale of a pleasant young theology student, Paul Pennyfeather, who gets shunted helplessly between the institutions of establishment England, announced Waugh as one of the great comic voices of the 20th century.
Waugh would be pleased with his book’s position in the list, which is arranged chronologically. He comes between Diary of a Nobody (Grossmith) and The Code of the Woosters (Wodehouse)–two that would probably be on Waugh’s own list of comedy favorites. Other books on the Times’ list include two surprises–novels which are based on (or are the basis for) more famous TV series: The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Alan Partridge: Nomad. Martin Amis’s Money is also included but, while it is more ambitious, it is arguably less laugh-out-loud funny than Dead Babies. Waugh would be pleased as well with one of Maxwell’s omissions. This is Catch 22 which Waugh also failed to find amusing. Maxwell says he was never able to finish it.