Tag Archives: satire

66. What a Carve Up!, Jonathan Coe (1994)

This, for me, is the 90s novel, and one of the very few attacks on ‘Thatcherism’ that I find convincing. I read it when it first came out, and spent most of the time either crying with laughter or nearly throwing up, particularly over the stuff relating to factory farming. The plot is deliberately, ludicrously complicated, but Coe steers the reader through multiple shifts in narrator, fictions-within-fictions and all the other postmodern devices that, in other hands, are so horribly hackneyed. One of the reasons I love it is because it’s a ‘biography novel’, about someone trying to write the life story of an ambiguous and elusive character; that’s always appealed to me, and you’ll find quite a few fake biogs on this list. From the moment you open What a Carve Up! you know you’re in the hands of a supremely skilled artist; it’s a bit like undergoing surgery from the top man in his field. Coe’s jokes are right up my street, and the sequence in which his novelist hero attempts to write porn still ranks among my all-time funniest reading experiences ever.

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85. Candy, Terry Southern (1958)

Terry Southern is a hard writer to pin down. Among other things he gave us the screenplays of Barbarella, Easy Rider and Dr Strangelove, he was at the epicentre of 60s counterculture and he knew absolutely everybody. His books are a bit hit and miss, which is hardly surprising if you look at his over-refreshed life story, but there are a couple of essential highlights. Blue Movie (1970) is a fantastic film industry satire, which greatly inspired a couple of my earlier books. But Candy (partly a collaboration with Mason Hoffenberg) is the masterpiece. Basically it’s a groovy rewrite of Voltaire’s Candide, this time with a voluptuous, naive heroine who skips from one insane sexual encounter to the next, never losing her cheery faith in human nature despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It’s hilariously funny and absolutely filthy, and almost certainly wins the prize for the most politically incorrect book on this list. What I really love about it (apart from the filth, natch) is that behind the tits & ass there’s a Swiftian ‘savage indignation’ at work, tearing at the prudery of 50s America and ushering in the sexual revolution of the 60s. Candy has a lot to say about the position (all puns intended) of women in that ambiguous decade: in Candy’s case, flat on her back while some tiresome man spouts philosophical claptrap to get into her knickers.

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