This is a wonderful family saga covering the first half of the 20th century. The aftermath of the war in the 20s, the uncertainty of the 30s with the threat of war looming ever nearer, and the austerity of the 40s are all cleverly caught. The disfunctional Mathews family will remain in my memory a long time.
How Angus Wilson is not more generally read, these days, baffles me. His books are subtle, complex and intelligent, carrying a number of themes by both conventional and somewhat experimental means. No Laughing Matter, the story of a family as it experiences and interacts with the 20th century, is a masterpiece. Wilson is without doubt an English literary master. The majority of his novels and short stories are of the first rank. They show a deep sympathy with and interest in women. They also show sympathy with a variety of misfits and outcasts. Although the current fashion seems to be for thin plots and facile language, I hope the time will soon come round when substantial novels like this will be read in large numbers. I have read and re-read this particular novel, as I have Late Call and As If By Magic, and it continues to give me enormous pleasure, insight and empathy for people I would not normally identify with. This, it seems to me, is the essence of what novel writing should be about. Perhaps Wilson represents the peak of the modern novel. If so then I think the likes of Amis and Hornby represent an avalanche brought about by a conflict of echoes.
Apparently Angus Wilson regarded this book as possibly his masterpiece. It is a highly ambitious novel, covering several generations of a bohemian London family and describing both the social and political transformation of England from the beginning of the 20th century pretty much to the end. Wilson used a number of unconventional techniques in the book and it was a break from his earlier realistic method. It achieves its ambition, in my view, giving us a vital, generous and incisive picture of English society which it might still find a little uncomfortable. A great, absorbing read.
Angus Wilson seems to have dropped out of fashion's sight, which is a great shame, because he has a lot to offer. This is probably his best work - an ambitious portrait of English society, well worth reading.