The Best Medicine, Part II

It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, but where would we be without anti-histamines, now that the pollen is back stuffing up those susceptible, threatening to make isolated life even more miserable and frustrating than it already is? That’s where laughter comes in, the second best medicine, to unclog our runny noses (apologies for that visual), make our eyes voluntarily stream with tears and lift spirits that may be closer to the ground than we might like. Along with therapeutic re-runs of your sitcom of choice a good book that will have you giggling with abandon is a serious spoonful of sugar; the selection below should do just the trick.

Fish Out of Water

Although now’s not exactly the time to embark on an epic literary undertaking (unless that’s your chosen Pandemic Project, then more power to you), these fish out of water tales require a little more concentration than some of the classics we mentioned last week. Less by Andrew Sean Greer follows Arthur Less, a moderately successful author who has found himself unexpectedly single in middle age and thus embarks on a world-wide book tour to take his mind off his heartbreak. He’s a funny, complicated hero, whose foibles are sweet rather than annoying, and the supporting characters are delightful foils to his charmingly self-centred nature.

A film adaptation of French Exit by Patrick de Witt is currently in post-production, so now’s the time to read it before it hits the big screen. I wonder how it’s going to translate to celluloid; it’s a quirky story about an oddball mother and son who flee from New York to Paris with a stowaway cat, after their fortune has been obliterated following the death of their husband and father. The cast of characters is weird and wonderful, and the biting wit of the prose paired with a knowing irony is incredibly digestible. Although it’s not a particularly easy read as such, this is one you’ll finish within a day or two, and will have you craving something similar to follow up with, rather than a palate cleanser after something heavy. Something like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman would be ideal.

Old Favourites

Returning to an old book you’ve loved is a tonic like nothing else. Last Chance Saloon and Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes are my absolute favourites from her oeuvre, and never fail to make me laugh. Rachel’s Holiday, the story of a young woman who enters rehab for alcohol addiction, contains one of the funniest passages I’ve ever read; the description by a fellow patient of their favourite chocolate bar. It’s a testament to Keyes’ writing that such a subject could have you tearing up with laughter, and it’s but one of the frequent moments of hilarity within the book. Last Chance Saloon follows three fast friends from Ireland who have made their lives in London, and has an equal amount of heart and hilarity.

I was introduced to the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett through Mort, the tale of Death’s apprentice. My teenage self had been reluctant to try what I figured were male-centric fantasy world comedies, but once I finished Mort I was hooked. My best loved of the series is the Witches books, which traverse folklore and re-write Shakespeare and other major writers in the English language. Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are two sides of the same coin, yin and yang companions who both compliment and condemn each other, depending on what side of the bed they’ve woken up on. The stories are incredibly funny, told with Pratchett’s signature satirical jocularity and are well worth dipping in to for a few hours of escapism.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 22 04 20

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