Monday, 9 May 2016

Not to Be Missed

Last night a Frenchman told me that the only books he ever rereads are the ones about "Blondings". He declared them the greatest books ever written and, while I would say that Molesworth just edges into the lead for me, I agree that his nominations are up there with the very best, (assuming of course that we were actually talking about the series of Wodehouse books involving Lord Emsworth and his beloved pig).

Strangely, in the wider world, light hearted fiction is rarely recognised as a really great cultural achievement. Comedy is not deemed properly "intellectual", and therefore amusing writers never ever win the Nobel prize.  That is why it surprised me particularly that someone French should so appreciate the form - French culture leans more to solemnity, in my experience, with humour, when it occurs, tending more to the sharply satiric end of the spectrum, rather than the whimsical, fond look at human foibles approach, (although there was, of course, Clochemerle).

But perhaps this was an unusual Frenchman. After all, he also said he thought my husband's joke about an American and a French diplomat who are working together on a plan of some kind was very funny - in the joke, after a long night of discussion the two diplomats at last come up with a fully formed strategy. The American thinks their work is finished, but the Frenchman still seems worried about something.

"What's the problem", the American asks the Frenchman.

The Frenchman furrows his brow and sucks his teeth.

"Hmm", he says, "I can see the plan works in practice - but does it work in theory?"

Anyway, I think there is nothing cleverer than being amusing, provided it is not at anyone else's expense. And, in that context, I am deeply in awe of Kenneth Williams as he narrates Cold Comfort Farm, enhancing his material with a performance of sheer genius.

If you want to hear him, the recordings are still available - although not indefinitely -?on the BBC Radio4Extra website. As someone who has never more than quite liked the Cold Comfort Farm book, (as opposed to the first television adaptation, which featured Alistair Sim being his usual marvellous self), I am particularly glad to have listened to Williams's reading as he does that thing that the very best narrators do - he highlights the best aspects of the text he is reading, revealing  just how truly brilliant it really is.

No comments:

Post a Comment