writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: Genre: Humour

Review: Does My Bum Look Big In This? – Arabella Weir

Does My Bum Look Big In This? book coverI picked this book up years ago, because I’m a big fan of ‘The Fast Show’, even if the ‘Does My Bum Look Big in This?’ sketches aren’t among my favourites. Arabella Weir is a very capable comedian and this shows through in her writing, with several scenes in the book provoking audible snorts. The question, however, is whether a fairly limited premise – a protagonist with cripplingly low self esteem – can comfortably support an entire novel. For the first hundred or so pages of Does My Bum Look Big In This?, it doesn’t seem like this is the case, but there is more character development and action in the second half, meaning that there is less reliance on the tiring joke of an attractive woman who just can’t see that’s what she is.

I think my key difficulty with Does My Bum Look Big In This?, however, is the fact that it’s a little too realistic to be enjoyable reading. It’s hard to be amused by a self-destructive internal monologue that bears a little too much resemblance to my own negative thought patterns. While I can definitely appreciate the accuracy of the protagonist’s voice, and the consistency of her characterisation, I didn’t gain a lot of enjoyment from the novel. Some things just hit a little too close to home.

That said, I think that a lot of fans of humorous chick lit will find plenty to enjoy in Does My Bum Look Big In This? There’s an interesting supporting cast, complete with a caddish ex, a likeable new love interest and a large circle of friends, family, neighbours and workmates. It’s told in diary form, so is a light and easy read, and is laugh-out-loud funny in places. One for readers who can empathise with feelings of insecurity – but perhaps not for readers who are overwhelmed by them.

Review: Chief Wiggum’s Book of Crime and Punishment – Matt Groening

Chief Wiggum's Book of Crime and Punishment book coverChief Wiggum’s Book of Crime and Punishment is one of a series of The Simpsons books that focus on individual characters. It’s highly illustrated and includes such things as ‘Chief Wiggum’s Top 40’ (and Bottom 40), comics, case files and TV scripts.

The books in the Simpsons Library of Wisdom series are a little hit and miss at times. The Ralph Wiggum one is extremely amusing in places and the Homer one is quite character-appropriate, so I was pleased when one of the most recent books involved another one of my favourite characters, Chief Wiggum. I found my copy in the UK, and dragged it all the way back to Australia with me, looking forward to reading it.

Unfortunately, Chief Wiggum’s Book of Crime and Punishment does not live up to the standards set by some of the earlier volumes in the series. The serialised comic strip is unfunny and dull and a lot of the pages are dominated by large pictures with very little accompanying text. More to the point, however, none of the content feels particularly original. A lot of the time, the only thing that marks this as a Simpsons book is the illustration.

There are a couple of likeable pages here, but overall my impression was one of disinterest and sometimes even boredom. Unless you’re a die-hard Chief Wiggum fan (and possibly particularly if you’re a die hard Chief Wiggum fan), I would recommend starting with one of the other titles if you’re new to the Library of Wisdom.

Review: The Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio

The Decameron book cover“Nature proves it to us very plainly, for she has made [women] soft and fragile of body, timid and fearful of heart, compassionate and benign of disposition, and has furnished us with meagre physical strength, pleasing voices, and gently moving limbs. All of which shows that we need to be governed by others; and it stands to reason that those who need to be aided and governed must be submissive, obedient, and deferential to their benefactors and governors. But who are the governors and benefactors of us women, if they are not our menfolk?”

With Florence in the grip of the Black Death of 1348, a group of seven women and three men retire to the countryside to escape the sickness and spend time in relaxation and frivolity. While there, they spend much of their days telling each other stories, ranging from very moral to very bawdy and from devious to munificent. Over ten days of storytelling, one hundred diverse tales are told.

The Decameron is a daunting book to pick up, given that it’s over eight hundred and thirty pages of 14th century writing. What’s more, it’s an equally daunting book to review, as it’s essentially a collection of short stories and it seems insufficient to review the whole – but just plain foolish to review all hundred tales separately instead.

Boccaccio’s work is of great importance to the literary tradition, but for me, as a historian, it’s the social setting of the tales and their underlying belief system that is most fascinating. In a sense, the stories themselves are of no great excitement to the modern reader, beyond the fact that they prove that some things really are timeless. There is an abundance of romance, plenty of trickery, smatterings of sex and the occasional moral for good measure. Usually, the guy will get the gal, but occasionally the gal will get the guy or they’ll both die horrible deaths.

Indeed, the predictability and repetitiveness of the stories is The Decameron‘s main downfall. It’s not a book that is easy to read in one go. After a point, I made the decision to read it a day (or ten stories) at a time, reading other books in between sessions, and my enjoyment increased greatly once I put this into practice. Many of the days involve ten stories told around a single theme, which tends to highlight the similarities in the collected tales. This didn’t bother me when it came to the themes I particularly enjoyed – the two days’ worth of tales of trickery, for example – but made the less-interesting themes seem to drag even longer.

The historical value of The Decameron is utterly priceless, however. Through fiction, the modern reader can learn so much about the society and social mores of Boccaccio’s time. The way in which the clergy is described was fascinating – both in terms of corruption and active sexuality. There are descriptions of political hierarchies, occupations, social groups, marriage rites, leisure activities and family routines. Each one of these hundred stories contains so much excellent information about 14th century Italian life.

Most intriguing to me is the way in which Boccaccio portrays his female characters. The quote above is uttered by one of the seven women in the prelude to her ninth story, which is a strong encouragement to husbands to soundly beat their wives. It’s an uncomfortable piece of writing, made more so by the knowledge that it is a woman who has been chosen as the moral’s advocate. And yet, elsewhere, Boccaccio’s women act in surprising ways. Women are portrayed as being smart, brave, strong, witty, loyal and accomplished. They are shown to possess healthy sexual appetites, rather than the common extremes of animalistic urges or chaste disinterest. Throughout the book, there is an obvious conflict between the accepted boundaries for women and the actual diverse natures of women, who may just as easily laugh at bawdy tales of lustful nuns as they may assert their own virtue.

The Decameron may be a daunting book to pick up, but it is worth the time you’ll spend buried in its pages. As a work of fiction, it is witty, romantic and perceptive; as a work of history, it is invaluable.

Review: The Craggy Island Parish Magazines – Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan

The Craggy Island Parish Magazines is a book tie-in to the 1990s television programme, ‘Father Ted’. As the title suggests, it is styled as a collection of Parish Newsletters, written by Father Ted Crilly himself. Along with editorials from Father Ted and several guest columns by Mrs. Doyle are collected articles about such topics as the history of Craggy Island and (so-called) Great Priests.

As a big fan of the television series, I first read The Craggy Island Parish Magazines in the early 2000s. I wasn’t hugely excited by it but, upon discovering it on ebay earlier this year, decided to give it a second go.

The book begins well. Ted’s voice is strong and perfectly in keeping with his television persona. The concept is clever, too, and the early articles about the history of Craggy Island are just bizarre enough to feel like the true history of this fictional place. However, the reading experience dulls as the book progresses. Repeated inclusions, such as Jim Sullivan’s sketches, soon tire, and the second half of the book feels less like a true tie-in and more like a collection of odd writings. (‘The Miraculous Power of Eggs’ is a key example.)

Most of all, though, the book suffers from a lack of content involving the fantastic characters that make the television show what it is. Ted is there, certainly, but there are only a few mentions of Jack and Dougal. Bishop Brennan gets one tiny post-script.

I love a good TV tie-in, but The Craggy Island Parish Magazines left me wanting something more. It’s a pleasant enough way of spending an hour or so, but a couple of episodes of the original programme would be a better choice.

Review: Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome

I think my expectations for this were a little too high, simply because both of my parents adore it. It was an easy, entertaining read, but not exactly as life-changingly incredible as I had been led to expect 😉

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