September 5, 2015
Howard Jacobson gave a class on writing comic novels at Somerset House.
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.