The Penguin Book of British Comic Stories, ed. by Patricia Craig

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The Penguin Book of British Comic Stories: An Anthology of Humourous Stories, ed. by Patricia Craig, Penguin Books, 1992, ISBN 978-0140122923, 544pp.

In this case, comic means humor (or humour, since this is a collection of British stories) rather than sequential art. Although, given the low laugh quotient, the definition of comic as humorous may not be exact either. It is a problem with any anthology of this type–that is, trying to cover such a broad range in both time and style–that the reader isn’t going to find every story to their liking, but this one for me didn’t even come close. I’d hesitate to actually term more than a third of these stories as smile-inducing, and only about a tenth actually had me laugh out loud.

I picked this up mainly to see if there were an author or two that I wasn’t aware of who wrote the kind of thing I liked; I knew that I would enjoy the stories by Rudyard Kipling, P.G. Wodehouse, and Kingsley Amis. To my surprise, I didn’t like the story by Amis. The big surprise was the story by Saki, which I laughed the loudest at, and had to read a section out to my partner:

“Dullness I could overlook,” said the aunt of Clovis: “what I cannot forgive is his making love to my maid.”

“My dear Mrs Troyle,” gasped the hostess, “what an extraordinary idea! I assure you Mr Brope would not dream of doing such a thing.”

“His dreams are a matter of indifference to me; for all I care his slumbers may be one long indiscretion of unsuitable erotic advances, in which the entire servants’ hall may be involved. But in his waking hours he shall not make love to my maid. It’s no use arguing about it, I’m firm on the point.”

“But you must be mistaken,” persisted Mrs Riversedge; “Mr Brope would be the last person to do such a thing.”

“He is the first person to do such a thing, as far as my information goes, and if I have any voice in the matter he certainly shall be the last.”

I enjoyed just a few of the other stories, including Julian Barnes’ “The Stowaway,” about some animals that you don’t think of as being on Noah’s Ark, not to mention some of the other details that got left out of the official version; V.S. Naipaul’s “The Night Watchman’s Occurrence Book,” about what goes on overnight in a tourist hotel in India; and “Raymond Bamber and Mrs Fitch,” where the dullest member of a cocktail party gets something of a comeupance.

I paid less than $10 for a hardback version of this, so I regret more of the time spent with the stories that I didn’t care for as much more than my monetary outlay. On the whole, I’d suggest a pass on this. Even if your tastes are opposite mine, I don’t think this will likely fill what you expect from the title.

[Finished 26 May 2006]

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