Mortality and Uncle Mort

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Why does anyone write comic novels? I can understand the desire, even the need to do so, for the world is funny and getting funnier. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry, or run into McDonalds with a pumpaction shotgun. Comedy keeps many of us sane, and I know that my life, for one, would be infinitely smaller and poorer if it weren’t for the vast quantities of humorous fiction that I have ingested over the past thirty years. Just recently I finished The Adventures of Sally, the only one of P. G. Wodehouse’s eighty-odd adult books I hadn’t previously read. For a moment I felt a terrible sense of loss. Where to go now? Was there any purpose to life at all? Of course there was: it had taken me since 1974 to read all those books, and it will probably take me just as long to read them all over again. Better start soon; it’s a big job.

Wodehouse, though, is special; unique, even. The greatest comic writer of them all has been well served by his publishers, and maniacs like me can replenish our supply whenever much-loved volumes fall to bits on long train journeys. Other comic writers are less fortunate. Rarely taken seriously by the literary mafia – because humour is only ever taken seriously by people with a sense of humour – their works can’t even be said to have fallen out of fashion, never having been in fashion in the first place. Comic novels don’t even sell that well, unless disguised as genre fiction (Terry Pratchett is no fool). A journalist friend of mine, crazed and chain-smoking and more talented than he knows, published a prodigiously funny novel about sports writing a year or two back and watched it do nothing. Publishers have since been queuing up to say ‘No’ to book number two.

These, I imagine (because I don’t know for certain), were the circumstances in which Peter Tinniswood produced four of the funniest novels in the English language, all but one of which are now out of print. Tinniswood, who died aged 66 in 2

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About the contributor

Marcus Berkmann writes regular columns for the Spectator, the Oldie and Private Eye, and his books include two on cricket (Rain Men and Zimmer Men) and Fatherhood: The Truth. He is not even contemplating writing a comic novel, knowing the terrible consequences that would ensue.

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