Article published on April 8, 2017.
Have you ever had that experience of reading a book and then finding yourself being looked at strangely by those in close proximity before the realisation dawns on you that you’ve been laughing out loud at what you’ve been reading?
It may be slightly socially awkward but reading a book that genuinely tickles your funny bone is one of life’s greatest (and cheapest) pleasures. I’ve merrily chortled along to Lindsey Kelk, chuckled at Graeme Simsion, and guffawed at Bill Bryson (the books, not the authors), and enjoyed every minute of it, but of late the funny book seems to have been pushed to the sidelines as current trends towards domestic noir and the psychological thriller in particular (neither of which by nature are particularly big on laughs!) dominate the fiction marketplace.
Popular crime, thriller and historical genres are similarly inclined towards the more doom-laden side of things, and whilst there are notable exceptions in literary fiction, including last year’s winner of the Women’s fiction prize, Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, again the tendency seems to be towards the serious.
So-called women’s fiction is perhaps one of the shining lights when it comes to humour, with its fair share of ‘com’ amongst the ‘rom’, and I have Joanna Bolouri and Lisa Dickenson in particular to thank for making sure 2016 had its fair share of laughs.
YA tends to hold its comic own too, and flies the flag for humour, amongst strong competition from fantasy and dystopia, but it is children’s fiction in which comedy makes its biggest mark, with comedians themselves like Messrs Walliams and Baddiel getting in on the act. It seems that whilst children’s books brim with humour then, the further you move towards adulthood, the more serious literature turns, and there’s an obvious logic to that; after all, life as an adult often involves removing the rose-tinted glasses of one’s youth. But neither is adult life all doom and gloom and nor should literature be, yet adult fiction certainly seems to be skewed that way.
That is not to say that there’s no comic fiction, there is, and a lot of good quality humour and fiction at that. But in the general scheme of things, should a Martian land in Waterstones (other book retailers are available), they’d be forgiven for thinking that life on planet earth was all about girls on trains and in various other compromising situations, boy wizards fighting evil foes, or general skulduggery and malcontent, with a few glimpses of fun.
Comic fiction just doesn’t seem to have the presence in literature that other genres have at the moment, and I can’t help thinking that the world is a lot worse off for that fact. I’m sure there are plenty of books that I’ve missed, but that in a sense is part of the problem, you just don’t hear about or uncover the ‘funny books’ amongst the ‘serious’ tomes that are generally peddled, nor do there seem to be the same number of humorous books being published.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these ‘serious’ genres as much as the next person and believe they’re a crucial part of a successful literary scene, but I’d just love for there to be more emphasis on, and space for, funny fiction too, within this scene. After all, we could all do with a good laugh from time to time, especially at the moment. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that 2016 wasn’t the best year for a lot of people – annus horribilis anyone? – and a bit of light relief as we move into the new year would be welcome. Maybe 2017 can be the year comic fiction takes the limelight, or at least finds its way back on to the stage.
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