Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Uncommon Reader

April Fool's Day seems a particularly English sort of thing. Despite attempts to point fingers across the Channel, mocking the humourless Germans or the pretentious French, the English reputation for stiff upper lip pomposity and class rigidity remains, and provides a rich source for English humour. And Monty Python's "upper class twit" sketch remains the gold standard for classic English humour: absurdity and silliness used to great effect, puncturing the pomposity of one's betters.
For the April Fool's Day Gazette picks I chose two recent Brit books, both of which poke a little fun at the muckety mucks: the Queen in The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and the Greek gods in Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips.

The Uncommon Reader is a delightful novella about the transformative power of reading. When the Queen's corgis stray into a library bookmobile at Buckingham Palace’s back door, she feels obliged to borrow a book. Unexpectedly, a passion for reading blossoms, with amusing consequences for the realm. Bennett's humour credentials are impeccable, for he appeared in the groundbreaking satirical review, Beyond the Fringe, with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook way back in 1960.

Reading The Uncommon Reader reminded a colleague of Sue Townsend's 1992 novel
, The Queen and I. Townsend took a break from her popular Adrian Mole books to tell the amusing story of what might happen to the Royal Family if a radical republican party were to take power in Britain, tossing the Queen out of work! The entire Royal Family is sent to live on a hideous housing estate in a grim provincial city. The Queen copes well, buckling down to do her duty, but Philip loses it and takes to his bed. Charles gets in a brawl and is jailed, while his organic garden goes to pieces. And the Queen's corgi runs amuck with a pack of wild dogs. Quite amusing but sweet and not mean-hearted. The events since '92 (Diana and Charles notably) have dated the book, but it is still a funny book.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips is a bit of a buzz book, especially here in Canada (her website proudly notes that the book hit #1 on the Maclean's bestseller list at the end of March). In GBB, the ancient Greek gods are in a bad way. Their powers waning, their immortality in doubt, they’ve been living in a rundown London house for 300 years, squabbling and working tedious jobs. An entertaining farce, with the fate of the world at stake.

Have a foolish day!


Anonymous Becky said...

This is great info to know.

9:06 p.m.  

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