Here's the second batch in our round-up of the funniest books ever written.
Love in A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (1949)
This irresistible melange of love, family, sexuality and reads like the unbelievable creation of a bored housewife, while the impact is made in the gulf that exists between what people are thinking and what they are saying.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (1951)
It's strange how this novel has become a by-word for doomy, nihilistic introspection; I blame Mark Chapman. It's actually a very funny book, right from its perfect opening sentence. No one has ever captured the adolescent voice with such accuracy; the pretension, the self-importance, the heart-breaking sincerity and misguided passion. The narrator's voice is perfect - slangy and wise-cracking - and there are some wonderful set-pieces too, including an excruciating encounter with a prostitute, wonderful rants about acting and the cinema and 'phoniness'. Hugely influential, cynical and warm and funny, its the perfect coming-of-age book (or bildungsroman, if you're feeling fancy). (Review by David Nicholls, author of Starter for Ten)
Doctor in the House by Richard Gordon (1952)
Richard Gordon gave the world the buxom patient with a lisp to whom the stethoscope-wielding doctor says, “Big breaths”, and the day-dreaming student in a lecture on blood clotting, asked “What’s the bleeding time?” and answering, “Ten past two, sir.” His world of jugular japes, curmudgeon consultants and nubile nurses seduced me as a teenager, so I became a doctor, only to discover a harsher reality. Something similar befalls the reader of “Doctor in the House”, who finds not a comic novel but a series of amusing anecdotes, yet, in both cases, the myth overpowers reality.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)
Kingsley Amis's first novel is definitely his funniest and, though the competition is strong, probably his best. It stars Jim Dixon, a young university lecturer who is persecuted by one of the great comic bosses, the bumbling Neddy Welch, by Neddy's son Bertrand, one of the greatest arty twerps in literary history, and by Margaret, who thinks she is Jim's girlfriend and who's the most fist-gnawingly neurotic bint in the literary canon. Will Jim chuck Margaret without her topping herself? Can he hang on to his rubbish job? Why isn't he going out with Christine, Bertrand's beautiful, large-breasted girlfriend? The conventional nomination for greatest comedy since the second world war, because that's exactly what it is. (Review by Harry Ritchie)
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (Mark Thomas) (1961)
This is about as good as it gets. The story is set as WW II nears its end and concerns Yossarian an America bombardier, who is seriously committed to staying alive in a world of insanity. For those with no concept of this book think an air squadron version of MASH set in 1945. Except funnier. The writing is relentlessly honest as the characters on the airbase live and die, love and fail in the kind of madness that can only exist in the military. It is, as great satire should be, unsentimental, vulgar and brutally hysterical.
Towards The End of the Morning by Michael Frayn (1967)
Considering journalists are quite a self-regarding lot, it's hard to think of major comic novels about the inky trade. Towards the End of the Morning is a bright and cherishable exception, and a kind of secret literary handshake amongst its fans. Set in a national newspaper office during the declining years of Fleet Street, it’s a comedy about failure and inanition lifted to greatness by Frayn’s expert pacing and magisterial gift for phrasemaking. Whether it’s Dyson’s night of shame as a TV pundit, or Bob’s romantic travails, or poor old Eddy Moulton’s lonely fate, the novel presses, wryly, almost shyly, on the funny bone and never lets up. (Review by Anthony Quinn)