I’ve always enjoyed British humor, which seems to trade on eccentricity in a way sometimes lacking in American humor. Maybe it’s the contrast of that stiff-upper-lip, tightly-wound stereotype colliding with absurd circumstances and behavior. My adolescent years were shaped by Monty Python (remember the Upper Class Twit of the Year and The Ministry of Silly Walks?) and I currently can’t get enough of Doc Martin. I also appreciate a good quirky British read. Some of my favorites:
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, a darkly comic novel set in the spring of 1912. At the country house of Sterne, which has fallen on hard times, the Torrington family is making preparations for a 20th birthday dinner for their eldest daughter Emerald. The festivities are interrupted when a group of third class passengers from a derailed train are sheltered in their home until help can arrive. One of the guests, Charlie Traversham-Beechers, insinuates himself into the family festivities, unraveling family secrets, while the other travelers (whose number seems to be mysteriously multiplying) huddle unattended in the library. My favorite character is youngest daughter Smudge, who decides it’s perfectly logical to bring her pony up the stairs and into her room while the adults attempt to contain the chaos below.
Smudge’s spunky personality reminds me of Cassandra Mortmain, the delightful heroine of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. The castle she is “capturing” through words in her diary is the crumbling estate she inhabits with her unconventional family. Her father, who spends his days locked in a tower trying to overcome his writer’s block, her ethereal stepmother Topaz, her beautiful older sister Rose, and her younger brother Thomas. This romantic comedy set in the 1930s will make you fall in love with Cassandra. (If not, there is something seriously wrong with you.)
I also recommend Alan Bennett’s tiny novella, The Clothes They Stood Up In, about a staid middle-aged couple who return from the opera one night to discover that every object they own (down to the casserole that was baking in the oven—and the oven) has been stolen. Their response to this catastrophic event will spark much discussion about the significance we place on our possessions and how they affect our relationships.
And speaking of eccentricity, you can’t get any weirder than the late Edward Gorey, whose animated illustrations have graced the opening credits of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery series for years. His grown-up Edwardian cartoons often depict innocent children who come to horrible ends. (Okay, I know he was an American, but his work seems decidedly British!)
Whether you like your British humor light and airy or dark and twisted, the perfect book awaits you at your library.