Sunday, 22 December 2013

Roger Lewis’s splendidly splenetic Seasonal Suicides Notes is the joint funniest book of the decade

I’ve been up far too late the last two nights laughing my jim-jams off at a brilliantly comic misery memoir, originally published in 2010. It was recommended by a member of our church book group as a sort of antidote to all the success stories one is subjected to living in this part of West London, where far too many people live in £1.5m+ houses as well as owning converted barns with indoor swimming pools in Wiltshire and Tuscan villas to boot, pull in at least half a mill a year salary plus a socking great bonus, drive gleaming black cars the size of tanks with a top speed in excess of 250mph, and have children called Jocasta or Harry who are either studying for a Nobel Prize at Oxbridge or have just been appointed the CEO of BNP Paribas a few weeks short of their 25th birthday.

You know – the sort who make you feel it might be worth moving to Middlesborough just to be among people sufficiently poor to make you feel you weren't a total failure.

Lewis – a butcher’s boy from Wales - is a fat, hard-drinking, pretty much permanently
pissed-off writer, who produces lots of articles and has written books about Peter Sellers (which I read and thoroughly enjoyed), Charles Hawtrey, Laurence Olivier, and Anthony Burgess (which I really must read). For several years he wrote a Christmas letter to friends (one round-robin epistle you’d be delighted to receive). He collected these together in 2009, added spring sections, and published the result as Seasonal Suicide Notes: My LIfe As It Is LIved. I’m two-thirds of the way through, and I’m saving the last third for a post-Christmas treat. Every page is howlingly funny. (It’s as good as Dear Lupin, which I wrote about here, my other funniest book of the last decade - at least.)

Don’t take my word for how good this book is – here are some of the reviews quoted on Amazon:

"He makes me cry with laughter - I really cried, blubbering and sniffling and gasping. Roger Lewis is a magnificently bilious comic genius." Francis Wheen

"This is one of the funniest books you will ever read. And the most reckless. If you like black comedy you'll find yourself in Narnia." The Spectator

"If they ever award gold medals for comic genius Roger Lewis will be a shoo-in for gold." The Mail on Sunday

"Ironically, Roger Lewis's dyspeptic chronicle of a disenchanted soul is so sharply observant and deliriously funny that it makes you glad to be alive. One for every grumpy old man's Christmas stocking." Daily Telegraph

And here’s what the current Secretary of State for Education had to say:

"The perfect Christmas present is already on the shelves. It is the funniest, truest, most engaging thing I've read all year." Michael Gove

Sound chap, Gove.

I’ll try not to spoil the treat you’re in for, but here are a few of my favourite passages:
In Hereford, a woman threw her artificial leg off a bridge into the Wye, “as a desperate plea for help.” Vinny Hilton from Hopton Road who lost her real leg to diabetes said she was “totally frustrated with the way she was being treated – specifically, the Council have yet to fit her stairs with a stair lift, she can only shower “when her husband helps,” her wheelchair doesn’t fit through the door, and her commode is “so badly designed and unsafe” she has often fallen off “suffering many bumps and bruises.” She also wants somebody to come and do all her housework. What a bone idle, miserable, grasping bitch.
...I am seldom in Groucho’s these days, particularly since funds ran out, so I am dismissed as a crank. Alexander Walker, who once wrote a mediocre book on Peter Sellers… actually said as much once, sneering at me in the Standard for being the son of a Welsh butcher, and I don’t mind admitting I was thrilled when the old poof died, I hope he was crushed by his bouffant hair-do. Why should I forgive such people?
I don’t fit in with a world where the heroes are savage bullies, or should I say pantomime demons, such as Piers Morgan, Alastair Campbell, Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell; where discussion of centuries’ old literature and culture have disappeared from the landscape; where all the proprietors of newspapers and the heads of publishing houses want is stuff on DIY gardening and celebrity-shagging kitchen nightmares churned out by bloggers and wankers. You look through the brochures for literary festivals and their idea of a great writer is Ben Elton.
What a useless painter [Francis] Bacon was – all those smeary faces and placenta pinks. He had one idea in his life: paint people (Popes particularly, or Dan Farsons) as if they are inside out and being buggered.
… in giving my donation to Live8 I just asked for the Swiss bank account numbers of the African prime ministers. This’ll save on the postage. 
Coincidentally, I just googled Roger Lewis and came across this article in which the poor chap reveals that he's a fellow pancreatitis-sufferer. (There should be a club for people like us.)

If you fancy a damned good laugh this Christmas, you can download the Kindle version of Seasonal Suicide Notes here (or order the hardcover edition and have something wonderful to look forward to in the New Year - get Jocasta or Harry to pay for it).

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