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Category Archive for 'Humor, Satire, Absurdity'

Having announced that this book will not be a “costume drama,” author Fay Weldon sets her story between 1922 and 1939, the period between the two world wars. While this is not a pure drawing room comedy, neither is it a story of postwar darkness – a story of families dealing with the deaths of their fathers and sons and the difficulties in supporting their families. Here Weldon’s characters are the elite and educated survivors from that Edwardian period, which shaped their thinking, behavior, and pocketbooks and which has left them out of touch with the real world as they now live in the war’s aftermath. Both satiric and ironic, the plot proves also to be very funny and cleverly revealing of social values. Sir Jeremy Ripple now runs a publishing house but likes to think of himself as a communist. Angela, his wife, the granddaughter of a Princess and niece of an Earl, is the money behind his company, and she still adheres to all the habits and behaviors of the upper class. Only Vivvie, their daughter, “large, ungainly five foot eleven inches tall, and twenty years old,” seems to have much realization of how the world works – and her conclusion is that small, pretty girls are the ones lucky in love. When Vivvie decides to propose marriage to a Douglas Fairbanks look-alike, the action begins, and it never quits. One of Fay Weldon’s best books to date.

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Although this is an oldie from 2004, recently resurrected by Amazon for promotion as a Kindle edition, it remains one of the wildest Christmas stories ever created, popular for its wacky humor, its crazy satire of Christmas excesses, and its never-ending ride through what feels like an alternative universe, all part of the style which author Christopher Moore has perfected over the years. As the novel opens, Lena Marquez, divorced from Dale Pearson, an unmitigated boor, who first appeared in The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, believes she has inadvertently killed Dale, who is dressed as Santa, during an argument. When the local constable, Theophilus Crowe, investigates, Dale’s “body” has disappeared. Lena’s fight with Dale was witnessed by young Josh Barker, age seven, who is now distraught at the thought that “someone killed Santa.” Soon little Josh is visited by the Archangel Raziel, who appeared in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, a klutzy angel whose mission it is to “Go to Earth, find a child who has made a Christmas wish that can only be granted by divine intervention,” and do something for him. Josh wants Santa to come back to life.

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Author Eugen Ruge grew up in East Berlin during the time of the Berlin Wall and lived there till the age of thirty-four, leaving the East for the West a year before the Wall fell, and perhaps it is this background which enables him to create a main character like Peter Handke. Handke is disconnected from those around him, alienated, his profound loss of motivation preventing him from making changes in his own world. Like the author, Handke is also a man from Berlin, one who has just lost his girlfriend and his sense of direction, and he has decided to start over in a new country. Not as young as he seems, he is a former professor of chemical engineering with a well-paid, permanent position, one he has recently resigned in order to become a writer. A novel of absurdity which sometimes borders on the bizarre, Cabo de Gata (“Cape of the Cat”) begins with Peter’s travels from Basel to Barcelona and then on to Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. Peter Handke is not a “hero” or even an anti-hero. He is too neutral and uncommunicative to attract the long-term interest of the reader, and his journey is a solitary one, with no antagonist, other than life itself, to fight him. He raises questions but does not come to many conclusions, and those he does draw are often offbeat and darkly comic. The novel ends without a clear resolution, adding to the feeling that this novel defies all the “rules” and presents itself on its own terms. Readers who can be satisfied with letting the novel unfold in its own way will enjoy this unusual and often humorous creation which offers more than mere laughs.

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I have to admit that when I read the premise of this novel, I cringed, thinking that it sounded too “cute”- even effete – to be taken seriously; author Ian McEwan relates this entire novel from the point of view of an unborn baby, nine months in the womb. Describing his “living room” with its cramped quarters within his mother Trudy’s belly, the unborn child points out that he has a surprising amount of control over his life, that he can overhear every conversation involving his mother, that he can participate in every physical act involving her, and that he likes his father, John, a poet, even though his mother has left him for a new lover, his father’s younger brother Claude. In the first pages of the novel, the baby tells us that his mother and Claude are planning a “dreadful event,” but the reader is not told the details of what that event is until after the author has described their characters and laid the groundwork for the action, something to do with “poison.” From this scenario within the first forty pages of the book, all the complications evolve for the remainder of the novel. McEwan’s descriptions, often hilarious, keep the reader completely involved, despite the obvious ironies and absurdities, as the baby-narrator develops a plan for revenge on his uncle and his mother – not for their plans to poison his father but for their betrayal in wanting the baby “placed” after its birth. A light-handed parody of Hamlet which stands on its own as a modern comedy with a tour de force ending.

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The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt by German author Wilhelm Genazino begins as an existential investigation by a self-conscious 46-year-old man into who he is and why he behaves as he does. His hypersensitive observations about the world around him show a man who “hardly thinks at all anymore—I only look round and about.” The unnamed speaker has been working for seven years as a “shoe tester,” a man who walks around Frankfurt testing quality shoes for a manufacturer and then reviewing them. The speaker enjoys this job, as his walking gives him unlimited opportunity to muse about his life, observe people from the past with whom he has had relationships, reminisce about their mutual experiences, and contemplate “the collective peculiarity of all life.” While he walks, he thinks about his childhood, his failed relationship with Lisa, with whom he has lived for several years, and his lack of professional motivation, and the reader observes him as he has an afternoon interlude with his hairdresser, begins a new relationship, meets a friend who is a failed photographer, gets a drastic cut in salary, and begins work as a vendor in a flea market. The author’s dry, tongue-in-cheek humor keeps the novel from imploding under its own weight, while the conclusion offers an upbeat future. Slow to start, the novel evolves into a delightful exploration of one man’s memories and his halting steps toward a new life.

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