In a year when responding to the world with humour has never seemed so vital, The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has announced its shortlist of six titles in contention for this year’s award.
The shortlist includes four men and two women, two debuts, three comedians, and a range of wonderful settings that stretch from Norfolk to India, via Ibiza and Brooklyn.
The books on this year’s list highlight the funniest novels of the past twelve months, which best evoke the Wodehouse spirit of witty characters and perfectly-timed comic phrases.
The judges for this year’s prize are: Peter Florence (festival producer and co-director of The European Festivals Forest), Pippa Evans (comedian), David Campbell (publisher, Everyman’s Library), Sindhu Vee (comedian), James Naughtie (broadcaster and author), and Justin Albert (Vice President of Hay Festival and Director of National Trust Wales).
The six funniest books chosen by this year’s judges, and comprising the 2023 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse for Comic Fiction shortlist, are:
Darling by India Knight
A razor-sharp, gloriously funny retelling of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. Marooned in a sprawling farmhouse in Norfolk, teenage Linda Radlett feels herself destined for greater things. She longs for love, but how will she ever find It? She can't even get a signal on her mobile phone. Linda's strict, former rockstar father terrifies any potential suitors away, while her bohemian mother, wafting around in silver jewellery, answers Linda's urgent questions about love with upsettingly vivid allusions to animal husbandry.
David Campbell says: “India Knight’s Darling is a delicious update of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, with Uncle Matthew a curmudgeonly difficult ageing 60’s rockstar living hilariously with his family in deepest Norfolk.”
Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham
The raucous, irreverent, and heart wrenching story of a transgender woman’s re-entry into life on the outside after over twenty years in incarceration told over one whirlwind Fourth of July weekend. Following her involvement in a liquor store robbery during her youth, Carlotta Mercedes has been in a men’s prison for twenty-three years. Now she has finally been released and is heading home to the newly gentrified Brooklyn, re-entering the orbit of her ambivalent son and adjusting to life as a quasi-free woman, restricted by parole rulings and the hostility of contemporary New York.
Peter Florence says: “Hannaham creates a mesmerising voice and character when, after 20 years in a men’s prison, his protagonist, Carlotta, a trans woman negotiates re-entry into a much-changed Brooklyn. This is savage, shocking humour that plays with tone and texture and tale to make the reader give more of a shit than we’d ever imagined.”
Mother Hens by Sophie McCartney
Cara Carmichael’s bestie is finally getting hitched, and she’s over the moon because it means one thing. They’re going to Ibiza! For Cara, it’s a chance to forget about her messy divorce and explosive feud with a stardom-seeking sister and Pina-Colada pickled mother. Four friends, three nights, two murders. One heck of an adventure. A rollocking rollercoaster ride from Ibiza to Vegas, via Cheshire, Mother Hens makes you laugh, wince, and wonder what any of us are really capable of when push comes to shove.
Pippa Evans says: “Mother Hens tells the tale of Cara Carmichael, as she navigates her messy divorce at the hen do of all hen dos. Hold on to your pelvic floor as Sophie McCartney paints a vivid picture of motherhood, friendship and revenge, served up in a margarita glass. What happens in Ibiza…”
Murder at Crime Manor by Fergus Craig
Detective Roger LeCarre. Scourge of crime. Guardian of Exeter. Amateur squash player. And now, party guest at Powderham, the manor house owned by mysterious billionaire tech genius Eli Quartz. It is a small and unconventional gathering: the Bishop, a fading radio star, a desperate aristocrat, the aging butler and his absurdly beautiful daughter - and Detective Roger LeCarre. Then a snowstorm blows in and the group realise they are trapped. And when, completely against expectations for this kind of situation, someone winds up dead, it's obvious who must solve the crime. Obvious, but for the fact the murder weapon was in Detective Roger LeC arre's hand, and the body was at his feet...
James Naughtie says: “Fergus Craig's detective Roger LeCarre is loveable, funny and absurd. His adventures are self-obsessed but also ridiculously show-offy. This book is Wodehousian in spirit and style. You laugh out loud, and you wonder how it is that in a staged country-house setting, where murder is done, you can still care. And then you realise that you've enjoyed it. A fictional romp to savour.”
Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan
It is a day of triumph for Appa and Amma, who have driven home a shiny new Honda Civic to show off to their neighbours in Blue Hills housing colony. But their eldest son Sreenath is behaving strangely, and his younger brother soon finds out why: a clip of Sreenath and his girlfriend Anita has been posted to a porn site, and is gaining traction. When the news breaks, their parents' anxiously acquired status is shattered, and the war between them becomes a viral story, emblematic of a wider generational fight. Full of bittersweet comedy, and insight into contemporary Indian society and an online generation, this is a story about now with the feel of an instant classic.
Sindhu Vee says: “Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors is a sharply observed story of family, love in all its myriad forms, rebellion, coming to terms with one's self and the extraordinary power the internet wields over all this, set in a refreshingly specific modern Indian context and relayed in a startlingly simple, pithy and hilarious voice.”
The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer
Gary Thorn goes for a pint with a work acquaintance called Brendan. When Brendan leaves early, Gary meets a girl in the pub. He doesn’t catch her name, but falls for her anyway. When she suddenly disappears without saying goodbye, all Gary has to remember her by is the book she was reading: The Satsuma Complex. But when Brendan goes missing, Gary needs to track down the girl he now calls Satsuma to get some answers.
Justin Albert says: “Bob Mortimer’s debut novel is one of the funniest and most entertaining books of the last ten years. That rarest of rare creations; a superbly comic book that also tells a blisteringly good page-turning story.”
About the six titles that have been chosen for this year’s shortlist, Chair of the judges, Peter Florence, commented: “Reading this shortlist is a joy. The bubbling up of laughter, the delight at the grace of good writing, and the sheer pleasure of responding to the world with humour has never seemed so vital. There’s a whole spectrum here of farce, satire, parody, and a gentler, witty geniality that the jury commend to you, warmly and with confidence. Right, we’re off to find a Gloucester Old Spot and a Jeroboam. Happy reading!”
Victoria Carfantan, Director of Champagne Bollinger, Group Bollinger UK & Global Partnerships, added: “From the submissions that have been received, 2023 has clearly been a stellar year for comic fiction. Curl up with a glass of Bollinger and any of these six wonderful novels and let the laughter flow. You won’t be disappointed.”
The winner of this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction will be announced at a reception in November in London and will be awarded with a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année, the complete set of the Everyman’s Library P.G. Wodehouse collection and a pig named after their winning book.
The shortlist was chosen from 73 submissions, published between 1 June 2022 and 31 May 2023.
Previous winners were:
Percival Everett for The Trees (2022)
Guy Kennaway for The Accidental Collector (2021)
Matthew Dooley for Flake (2020)
Nina Stibbe for Reasons to be Cheerful (2019)
Prize withheld (2018)
Helen Fielding for Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries (2017)
Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love & Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void (2016)
Alexander McCall Smith for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party (2015)
Edward St Aubyn for Lost For Words (2014)
Howard Jacobson for Zoo Time (2013)
Terry Pratchett for Snuff (2012)
Gary Shteyngart for Super Sad True Love Story (2011)
Ian McEwan for Solar (2010)
Geoff Dyer for Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (2009)
Will Self for The Butt (2008)
Paul Torday for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2007)
Christopher Brookmyre for All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye (2006)
Marina Lewycka for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005)
Jasper Fforde for The Well of Lost Plots (2004)
DBC Pierre for Vernon God Little (2003)
Michael Frayn for Spies (2002)
Jonathan Coe for The Rotter’s Club (2001)
Howard Jacobson for The Mighty Waltzer (2000)