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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Spectator by Seema Goswami: Laugh out loud

There are very few authors who can make you do that – so cherish the ones who do succeed

brunch Updated: Sep 07, 2019 22:14 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
When you read a book that’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, never mind if you are in public as you chortle away!
When you read a book that’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, never mind if you are in public as you chortle away! (Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

Sitting at my table for one as I waited for my lunch to be served, I slipped in my earphones and resumed listening to Meryl Streep reading that Nora Ephron classic, Heartburn. (Yes, I am happy to report that I have finally got the hang of audiobooks – but that’s a story for another day.) Before I knew it, my surroundings had slipped away and I was in Nora-world where her husband had fallen in love with an impossibly-tall person while she (Nora, not the girlfriend) was seven months pregnant. But while this may sound like tragedy to most of us (and it most assuredly was) Ephron managed to spin comedy gold out of the disaster that was the collapse of her marriage.

Which is how I found myself laughing out aloud at one of the (many) funny bits. And such was my absorption in the tale being told into my ears that it took me a while to realise that the people in the restaurant were looking at me funny as well. What on earth was a grown woman doing laughing uproariously into her Malaysian prawn curry? Aware that I probably looked certifiable I tried to compose myself. It lasted for about a couple of minutes. And then Meryl hissed into my ear about how her husband would even have sex with a Venetian blind, and I was in giggles yet again.

Finally, I decided to just give in to the comic bits that would set me off regularly and laugh along with the narrative. After all, the other people in the restaurant had already written me off as a mad old bat, so what did I have to lose?

Besides, how often do you get the privilege of reading (or listening to) a book that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny? Not very often at all, I am afraid. So, when you finally hit upon one – or in my case, reread it in a different format – then it makes sense to clamber on for a fun-filled ride, punctuated with giggles and chuckles, never mind if you are in public as you chortle away. You folks can keep your judgement. I am happy in my enjoyment.

Most people think of Georgette Heyer as a romantic novelist. But she is also a dab hand at comedy.

As I drove back home, I began thinking of the other authors who have the knack of making us laugh out loud like Nora Ephron had managed to do with me that afternoon. The first name that popped into my head was that old childhood favourite, P.G. Wodehouse. My mind flashed back to all the many summer holidays spent devouring the entire Castle of Blandings oeuvre, giggling over the antics of the Earl of Emsworth and his prize-winning pig called, appropriately enough, the Empress of Blandings, and the ever-efficient Baxter, his private secretary, and the whole host of supporting characters who populate his whimsical plots. Once I had swallowed this whole series whole, I had moved on to the Jeeves and Wooster omnibus, which kept me whooping with laughter yet again as I navigated the world of the doltish Bertie Wooster and his ever-resourceful and masterful manservant Jeeves.

My teenage years were also when I discovered another of my favourite comic writers. I know that most people think of Georgette Heyer as a romantic novelist because she is best known for her ‘Regency Romances’. But what most people who haven’t read her don’t realise is that she is also a dab hand at comedy. Her convoluted plots provide enough space to slot in comic bits and Heyer does a great job at working them in seamlessly. If you want to see Heyer at her comic best, read The Grand Sophy, The Talisman Ring, Cotillion. Or actually, read any of her ‘romances’. Laughing out loud comes with the territory.

Gerald Durrell was another author who kept me in whoops in my growing-up years. There was a time in my life when I used to reread My Family And Other Animals once every year just so that I could laugh at the antics of the Durrell household as they navigated life on the island of Corfu. Last year, I went back and revisited the Durrells, wondering if they would amuse the adult me just as much. And the short answer is: yes, they could – and they did.

More recently, it is the books of some female comics which have got me cackling loudly as I read them. Mindy Kaling’s self-deprecatory humour in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? had me chuckling along half in recognition and half in appreciation. Tina Fey’s Bossypants did the same trick as did Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me? and Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman should come with a warning that you might embarrass yourself reading it in public – as I did. (Yes, yes, I know, there are plenty of male comics out there who are just as funny. But what can I tell you? The funny bone wants what it wants. And in my case, it wants the female voice.)

I am sure that there are plenty of other hilariously funny authors out there that I am missing out on. If there are any that make you embarrass yourself in public as you laugh out loud while reading, please share their names with me. And I promise, in short order, to share your embarrassment.

Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004

From HT Brunch, September 8, 2019

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First Published: Sep 07, 2019 22:12 IST