Literary fiction that will make you laugh
Whether it’s razor-sharp satire or effortlessly charming comedy of manners, these works of fiction mix levity and literary in equal measure, and will tease out a few smiles and chuckles or have you doubled over with full-on belly laughs.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
When Andrew Sean Greer’s novel about an almost-50 failed novelist’s travels across the globe won the Pulitzer last year, it had critics cheering that ‘finally, a comic novel gets a Pulitzer Prize’. When Arthur Less receives a wedding invitation from an ex-boyfriend, he can’t say yes – it would be too awkward; he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world. Throughout his travels, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death, and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (available 9 April)
Queenie Jenkins’ life is not turning out the way she planned: she’s floundering at work, she and her long-term partner are on a seemingly unending ‘break’, and she’s had to move out of their shared apartment into a disgusting sharehouse. The flawed and lovable heroine of Carty-Williams’ darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on London life, has been hailed as a Jamaican-British Bridget Jones, and this debut novel is full of the hilarious family members, bad workmates and even worse dates that you’d expect from such a comparison. It’s also a story that explores sexism, racism, inter-generational friction, and internalised misogyny with a light but insightful touch. Queenie will have you laughing ruefully in recognition, crying in solidarity, and cheering for the main character every step of the way.
Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander
This new short and streamlined comic novel by Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted author Englander skewers religion, secularism and their hypocrisies. It centres on Larry, an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews, who returns to his family after his father’s death. As the surviving son, it is Larry’s responsibility to recite the Kaddish – the Jewish prayer for the dead – every day for 11 months, but instead he hatches an ingenious plan to hire a stranger through a website to recite the prayer in his place. A novel about atonement, family and the soul-sickening temptations of the internet, which, like God, is everywhere.
Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan
Toni Jordan is one of our best observers of contemporary life, and her 2017 novel, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a wonderfully witty comedy of errors starring a large cast of flawed characters. Fraught marriages, mistaken identities, multiple affairs, broken hearts and Noosa beach houses – this twisty and ambitious farce about Australian surburbia feels like a modern-day Oscar Wilde mixed with the Gilmore Girls, with an ultimately optimistic ending.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
This 2016 Booker Prize-winning novel is a laugh-out-loud, caustic satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. With this work, Beatty challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement and even the holy grail of racial equality – the black Chinese restaurant. If you haven’t read this one yet, then definitely push this outrageous and outrageously entertaining novel to the top of your to-read list.
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
When Jo Breen buys a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland, she is hoping for a tree change, and a connection to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. What she discovers instead is sharp dissent from her teenage daughter Ellen, trouble brewing from unimpressed white neighbours, and a looming Native Title war among the local Bundjalung families. Lucashenko is a master of dialogue and duality and this darkly funny novel of romantic love and cultural warfare doesn’t shy away from depicting life in all its messiness: filled with laughter and hope, but also heartbreak, banality and back-breaking hurdles.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Jerome’s Edwardian classic about three friends (and an unforgettable fox-terrier Montmorency) who decide to go on a two-week boating holiday up the Thames is riotously funny and almost too English to be believed. Kippers, boating, bad English food, unpredictable weather, and Montmorency’s destructive tendencies – the troubles that beset this group are ordinary and inconsequential but made hilarious by Jerome’s witty ripostes and surprisingly astute psychological understanding of the English middle/upper-middle class of the time. Perfect for fans of P.G. Wodehouse.
Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh
The twelve stories in Koh’s debut collection of short stories reimagine our world with a dark satirical twist: a young girl sees ghosts from her third eye, located where her belly button should be. A one-dimensional yellow man steps out of a cinema screen, hoping to lead a three-dimensional life. Koh combines absurd humour with searing critiques on contemporary society – the rampant consumerism, the casual misogyny, the insidious fear of those who are different – flirting with iconic images of Australiana and twisting them to show us the strangeness of our cultural landscape.
Notes on a Thesis by Tiphaine Riviere
This French graphic novel about a procrastinating doctoral candidate is one of the funniest and grimmest depictions of academia published. Told over the course of five years, Riviere’s partially autobiographical work covers the indignities of casual tutoring, the unending frustrations of tertiary bureaucracy, the blank stares of incomprehension of ‘normal people’ and the smug ruthlessness of big ego academics. It’s the perfect gift for the doctoral candidate in your life – but perhaps give it to them after they’ve finished their PhD so as not to put them off their studies entirely.