Howard Jacobson: how to write a comic novel
An RSL/Booker Prize Foundation Masterclass with Howard Jacobson on writing comic fiction.
- David Copperfield or Little Dorrit (These are long novels. If time is short, then Great Expectations. But there has to be Dickens in here somewhere)
- Persuasion – Jane Austen
- The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
- The Tale of the 1002nd Night – Joseph Roth
- Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis (The question of whether this remains as funny as it was is interesting in itself)
- Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
- Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter – Mario Vargas Llosa
- Karoo – Steve Tesich
- Don’t try to be funny. The best comedy arises out of an embarrassment of seriousness.
- Don’t give characters funny names. (Dickens used them all up)
- Underwear isn’t funny. Neither are exclamation marks.
- Writing about sex altogether is tricky. But inexplicitness is best, except when it isn’t. Do remember, though, that it takes refinement to be gross.
- Don’t be upbeat or feel-good, and don’t invite your readers to find you or your characters incorrigible.
- Assume you are writing a tragedy. If your novel is any good that’s precisely what it will turn out to be.
- Don’t consent to be called a comic novelist. It’s a tautology.
Recorded on: September 5, 2015
Recorded at: Somerset House
Sponsored by: Booker Prize Foundation