Category Archives: Humour

The Murdstone Trilogy

Mal Peet

David Fickling Books

9781910200155

October 2014

hardback

Finished

I was looking forward to The Murdstone Trilogy, A Novel by Mal Peet as soon as I got wind of it. I read it last week, in a couple of sittings.
What a superbly entertaining satire it is.
Not only is it not a trilogy but, at just a little over 300 generously line-spaced pages, it is also economical in its one-volume-ness.
The main character, a single man and writer called Philip Murdstone, is completely believable. His career is going down the proverbial pan. Sales are derisory.
Cue for his agent, the magnificently conceived Minerva Cinch, to persuade Murdstone to try his hand at writing a fantasy, since that is all the rage.
I was laughing out loud (chuckling out loud to be more accurate, since most of my reading was done on a train, and I’m someone who rarely laughs aloud while reading anyway) from the word go.
And it wasn’t always the satirical digs at the ways and wiles of the publishing world that struck me as amusing (though it has to be said those who are most intimately familiar with that world are the most likely to get most pleasure from reading the book) – no, it is often just the pure observational genius of Peet’s writing that raises a smile, as in “Like most solitary men, he has a wide repertoire of groans.”
Peet has mischievous fun with the two librarians in the book, Francine and Merilee, known as the Weird Sisters. It’s always a pleasure when they enter the stage.
Murdstone agrees, under great pressure from Minerva, to attempt a fantasy – initially to no avail. Eventually, with a bit of help from a guest ale called Dark Entropy, some time alone amid a stone circle on Dartmoor, and a certain dwarfish creature called Pocket Wellfair, the fantasy gets written.
Lovers of the genre will need to possess their own sense of humour to appreciate Peet’s clever passages of pastiche as he shows us examples of the quest Murdstone is working on.
It’s probably fair to say that the book’s most appreciative audience will be those who share Peet’s own obvious bemusement at the popularity of High Fantasy of a certain ilk.

The Carbon Diaries 2015

Saci Lloyd

Hodder

978-0-97015-7

Autumn 2008


Both the futuristic setting and the cover design led me to expect a different type of young adult novel. The “Coming soon… The Carbon Diaries 2017” facing page 1 gives the clue to the type of book Saci Lloyd has written. I read it on a train travelling to and from the Bacon and Rothko exhibitions and the book was a welcome contrast to the heavily engaging content seen there.
What we have in Carbon Diaries is essentially a family sitcom as reported by one of the daughters. World energy supplies have reached such a pass that each family is given a carbon footprint ration. The authorities respond swiftly whenever the ration is exceeded. Just six months into the situation the father is cracking up. Because 2015 is not all that far away, and because the author is careful not to be too outlandish in her predicted vision of Britain seven years from now, the book is very believable, which makes it at once highly comic and thought-provoking. Most readers, once they’ve finished laughing, will think, Hang on a minute, is this really the way things are heading? How are we going to cope?

How to get Famous

Pete Johnson

Yearling

0440868173

Jun 2008

“In my opinion fame is like a giant blue bubble… This blue bubble can quite suddenly come floating and shining towards you, showering you with glory. And it’s great being even a bit famous… But the thing is… this blue bubble of fame appears when it feels like it… But I know it can vanish in an instant…”


The frail, fickle nature of fame has been a recurring theme in Pete Johnson’s fiction, in ‘I’d Rather Be Famous’, astute comment was made as to the types of decision that are driven only by outward appearance, by what others think rather than what we ourselves actually feel. In ‘The Hero Game’, Charlie’s idolisation of his grandfather and his sheer determination to immortalise him are challenged by revelations as to his grandfather’s past, that he finds difficult to equate with his present perception of his uncle.
‘How to get Famous’ sees friends Tobey and Georgia desperately seeking the lime-light but learning the bitter consequences that follow failure and rejection. This is exacerbated further still by the crushing humiliation Tobey faces at an audition in which Georgia is successful. Pressures of personal hopes that are defeated alongside the achievement of friends’ achievement places friendship into a fragile context.
In a surprise turn, however, Johnson achieves a twist that demonstrates incisively the spontaneous manner via which we affect and influence others through our actions as compared with the forced nature of acting and rehearsal.
Tobey’s comic capers, retold through an approachable epistolary style, make for a humorous and affectionately told story that is elevated through the characteristic social comments and human observations that permeate this author’s work.

The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Face-off

Anthony McGowan

Red Fox

186230386X

May 2008

Watch out people here they come
They are the gang with the big bare bum


The brilliance of this book is its bare faced cheek in taking the Blytonian ideal of a secret society and bringing this bang up to date with Smartie-fart-tube traps, a sassy and irreverant gang name and battle for supremacy against rivals ‘The Dockery Gang’ played out in a frenetic football face-off.
Following the success of his irreverant style in the teen arena, Anthony McGowan transposes that self-same humour, yet understanding of child social groupings to a younger age range. Fans of ‘The Secret Seven’ will no doubt recognise several reference points here, not least, Jennifer Eccles, a sister who like Susie is keen to join-up.
Latent concerns about the toilet humour can be flushed aside against the vicarious access here granted to a secret society replete with its own covert initiation rituals… Despite its exclusive membership, this is an inclusive romp that developing readers will race through.

Kid Swap

Michael Lawrence

Orchard Books

140830273X

Jul 2008

Another welcome and wit-filled outing for Jiggy McCue sees the hapless protagonist assume the leading role in a new television series ‘Kid Swap’ where children from families with different socio-econimic backgrounds and systems of belief are brought together in a ‘light-the-blue-touch-paper’ and watch the chaos ensue type fashion…
The near-universal base of Jiggy’s various mishaps and humiliations will make these familiar for many and thereby extending a sense of affinity towards him. Underlying the laugh-out-loud plot-lines, lies a caution as to the importance of privacy in adolescene, the ability to make our own mistakes, to fall prey to our doubts and emotions and ultimately to develop and grow because of that. Accordingly, as an adult reader, it is hard not to breathe a sigh of relief that Jiggy attains some form of reprieve by the end of novel and that his late childhood remains his own, not sold-off or commoditised.

Mammoth Academy in Trouble

Neal Layton

Hodder Children’s Books

0340930306

Jul 2007

The start of a new term at the Mammoth Academy is immediately greeting by a pledge on the part of the humans from Cave Skool that ‘We is gonna git you!!’. So it transpires that another epic battle between Mammoth and mankind is initiated.
Arabella’s studious nature leads to her developing ‘The Sparklebang Code’, this when combined with the Mammoth Mammoth, a giant model that pupils have made at the academy leads to an explosive solution as the humans encroach upon the Academy.
The inimitable and illustrious Layton’s mixed media illustrations perfectly complement the anarchic irreverence of this latest installment about the Mammoths; fun, friendly and furiously fast-paced, readers will find themselves caught in a frenetic race to the feast at the finale!

My So Called Life

Joanna Nadin

Oxford University Press

0192755269

Jun 2007

Joanna Nadin has written a novel that forms a reaction against and indeed is the antithesis to the ‘teenage issue novel’. Astute and witty, comments about suburban, middle-class values ethics and world views abound in this uproariously funny page-turner.
Following the life and thoughts of Rachel Riley through a series of diary entries, the novel is similar in form and in feel to the Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison. A distinction exists, however, in that a more coherent thread of storylines and plots courses beneath the self-conscious, though rarely self-aware, diary entries of the protagonist.
Resolved that the current year truly will be her most dramatically tragic yet, Rachel is so focused upon this aim, she is unaware of the more irregular and surreal aspects of her life. Ascorbic and probing, writing so sharp and so pointed should carry a safety warning!

The Bad Spy’s Guide

Pete Johnson

Corgi Yearling

0440867630

May 2007

Marginalised from her peers by consequence of her ardent interest in spies, Tasha falls easy prey to Henry, the new boy who, after a confusion of notebooks, reveals himself to be operating on behalf of a secret governmental organisation. Having succeeded in securing Tasha’s confidence, Henry uses her bedroom as a vantage point for surveillance on his alleged mission.
Fans of Pete Johnson’s work will neithbe neither surprised nor disappointed to learn that he has penned no ordinary teenage spy novel. Henry has a secret concerning his father and indiscretions from his past that have been manipulated to secure self-interest. Henry is now determined to reveal the truth and with a similar deftly, Johnson sows the seeds of his story with just the right precision to keep readers edging ever closer, but never quite guessing the truth behind this twisting, turning story. Fiendishly cunning and cleverly observed, Pete Johnson brings fresh flavour and gives food for thought to the common staple of the teen spy novel

The Iron, The Switch and The Broomcupboard

Michael Lawrence

Orchard Books

1846164710

Jul 2007

Exploration of the effects of chance and caprice feels familiar territory to Michael Lawrence. Following on from consideration that is firmly rooted in the philosophical consequences of the decisions and choices we each of us play out in ‘The Aldous Lexicon’, Lawrence writes with a humorous frivolity that is immediately accessible and, at points, feels to be reaction against the depths and intricacies of ‘The Underwood See’.
Back for his ninth adventure, the hapless Jiggy McCue finds himself transported to a parallel world in which he becomes divorced from his familiar motley crew of musketeers. In itself, this highlights Lawrence’s aptitude for revealing the inner-workings and mechanics of group friendships, social interaction and communal thoughts and actions ‘ an understanding that places his series alongside stalwarts of children’s literature, Nesbit and Blyton, who showed similar awareness and ability to convey this effectually through unembellished, fast-moving prose style.
Literary influences figure highly in Michael Lawrence’s body of work, as he quite correctly asserts in his preface, this is not done ‘slavishly’ here, but rather creates parallels that are parodied ‘ and sometimes ridiculed(!) ‘ adding to the jovial nature of the predicaments Jiggy encounters.
Cleverly interweaving details and character facets from the previous books in the series, this is absurdist humour at its unequivocal best ‘ belly laughs abound in this rib-tickled read!

Ivan the Terrible

Anne Fine, ill. Philippe Dupasquier

Egmont

1405233249

Jun 2007

Greetings to all you lowly shivering worms


Assigned the task of looking after new pupil, Ivan, by headteacher Mrs Blaizely, Boris finds himself constantly trying to veil darkly threatening comments and a deliberate flouting of authority when translating his new class-mates comments from Russian into English for the benefit of teachers and pupils alike at the highly convivial St Edmund’s school. Throughout the course of the day, the problem escalates in magnitude, placing Boris into ever more cringe-worthy, difficult circumstances as he tries to meet and match Ivan’s menace with good manners.
Anne Fine’s trademark black humour is laced with a delicious sense of precision and of timing throughout the novel. As concurs with the author’s body of work per-se, however, underpinning this humour are keen observations as to the functionality of communication in modern life, the need for expressing one’s wants and desires across whatever boundaries we encounter in life ‘ whether these be geographical or based around engaging with those from different ages or backgrounds to our own and a tendency for children’s voices to be marginalised alongside the egalitarian intents of those imbued with their education and wellbeing.
Publication of this admirable and compelling short novel is the flagship for Anne Fine’s revised and rejacketed backlist with Egmont books.