Laughter returns as Wodehouse Prize judges unveil shortlist

News - Prizes Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Prize for comic fiction abandoned last year as none of the entries were sufficiently funny; six novels this year judged amusing enough to make the cut

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has this morning announced its shortlist of the six funniest novels for 2019.

Last year the judges decided to withhold the prize, for the first time in its history, because 'the submissions did not make the panel unanimously laugh-out-loud,' according to organisers.

The shortlist was selected at the house of Champagne Bollinger in Ay, France by a judging panel (pictured), which includes musical comedian and improviser, Pippa Evans; comedian Sindhu Vee, in her second year as a judge; and long standing judges, broadcaster and author James Naughtie, Everyman’s Library publisher David Campbell, and a vice oresident of the Hay Festival and director of National Trust Wales, Justin Albert. The judges made their selection from 71 submissions — a 15% increase on last year — published between 1 June 2018 and 31 May 2019.

The six shortlisted novels are:
- Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin (Oneworld). Judge Sindhu Vee said: "We all have a companion voice in our heads. Never more so when life is unpleasant but we can’t really change anything. How lucky we’d be if that voice was Jen Beagin’s. Honest (sometimes brutal), compassionate and always able to pick out what’s funny in the darkest spot. Vacuum in the Dark had me grinning in recognition and laughing even as I winced."
- In at the Deep End by Kate Davies (The Borough Press, HarperCollins). Judge Pippa Evans said: "I laughed out loud reading this hilarious exploration of sexual awakening. Kate Davies’ début novel reads like she's an old hand at comic writing. So, so funny whilst exploring the sadness and danger of wanting to be loved."
- Charlie Savage by Roddy Doyle (Vintage, Jonathan Cape). Judge Justin Albert said: "A belly-achingly funny, surprisingly optimistic and heartwarming book written by a writer at the very height of their literary powers. A book to savour, and to re-read time and again."
- Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (Transworld, Doubleday). Judge David Campbell said: "Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage is both a brilliant evocation of the suffragettes’ great struggles and a great comedy. Mattie is a wonderfully engaging figure in this beautifully written book. I loved it."
- Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen (Galley Beggar Press). Judge James Naughtie said: "Francis Plug: Writer in Residence is hilarious and poignant too, cutting through the absurdity that our eponymous hero generates wherever he goes, and touching on some raw truths. Paul Ewen is a comic writer of real originality and in Plug, he has created a joyous character who can be relished — laughed at, sympathised with, and even, surprisingly, understood. We have met him before, and we hope we will meet him again."
- Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (Penguin, Viking). Judge Pippa Evans said: "Nina Stibbe is a comic magician with detail that paints the most fantastic comedy picture. I have never considered working in a dental surgery and now have no desire at all. But I'd happily read about this one for the rest of my life! This book is definitely a reason to be cheerful."

David Campbell, judge and publisher of Everyman’s Library, said: "We had great fun choosing this year’s shortlist, aided by Bollinger’s hospitality, and are delighted with strength of the six books we’ve chosen. Our top criteria was that we had to laugh out loud during reading, and my fellow judges all agreed that all these books achieved this feat, while also evoking the other esteemed qualities of Wodehouse’s writing from the creation of joyous characters to the crafting of the perfectly-timed comic phrase."

The winner will be announced at Hay, receiving a special rollover prize of a methuselah of Bollinger Special Cuvée, along with a case, a particularly large rare breed pig named after their winning novel and a complete set of the Everyman Wodhouse.

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