29. The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith (1888-89)

Comic novels feature prominently in my top 30, on the basis that there’s enough pain and misery in life without having to read about it all the time. Whenever someone offers me the latest heart-rending, soul-shattering tale of loss and grief I usually say ‘thank you very much’ and reach for something like The Diary of a Nobody. It’s one of those books that just gets funnier the more you read it, and things that seemed pointless or banal at first glance become hysterical. Originally published in serial form in Punch, the diary recounts the very boring life of Mr Charles Pooter, who commutes from his home in Upper Holloway to his desk job in the City, works, comes home and has dinner. That’s basically it. But the quality of his life – his petty annoyances, his social ambitions, his relationship with wife Carrie and son Lupin – is what this is all about. Everyday trivia like Pooter’s disastrous attempts at DIY, his dealings with tradesmen etc, are recounted in minute, compelling detail. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but once you click with The Diary of a Nobody there is no going back.

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