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Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Joy, 3 Dec. 2011
This review is from: The Household Tips of the Great Writers (Hardcover)
The Household Tips of the Great Writers by Mark Crick
Granta £12.99
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai

Literary parody is an art which requires the finest tuning. If it's too obvious it can seem clichéd and lazy; too subtle and readers might miss references to the lampoonee. The work also has to have merit per se rather than just being a pastiche - it needs to be hilarious, seize attention immediately and hold it, tell its own story, and have a point. With so many stringent criteria to fulfil and yet requiring, by definition, to be fun, it's no wonder that truly talented literary satirists are thin on the ground.

A big cheer, then, for the re-publication in a single volume of Mark Crick's three volumes of wonderfully droll sketches in the style of the great writers, outwardly packaged as household tips but inwardly designed to stop the reader participating in any chore due to howling tears of mirth. Like fellow sharp-eyed imitator Craig Brown, Crick is so acutely tuned in to the style of the writers he pastiches that he makes you shake your head in wonder at astute observations you've never previously made about the victims.

So here are the recipes making up Kafka's Soup, the household DIY tips which formed the basis of Sartre's Sink, and the gardening advice from Machiavelli's Lawn. Every piece is pitch perfect, revealing Crick's astonishing and understated knowledge of the greats of world literature. Mrs Beeton's brisk, disapproving preface is followed by Jane Austen trying to match-make some eggs under the curdling glare of a supercilious titled neighbour. Kafka finds himself alienated in his own kitchen, creating soup for visitors who may be guests or interrogators/judges. Irvine Welsh's colourful argot instructs on how to cook up, or is it bake, and is as entertaining as any scene in Trainspotting. Marcel Proust seeks la recherché du temps perdu in conjuring up a tiramisu, becoming quite carried away with melodramatic urges: ` `...The whites he whisks into a snowy peak.' To throw myself from that snow-swept mountain. `He then reunites the two mixtures,' o blessed union...' Marquez's coq au vin involves a fighting cockerel from a mysteriously powerful figure. The chapter on rosti as instructed by Thomas Mann is so eerily evocative of the great German writer that even the syntax is Germanic (`the menu's description wove in his mind a spell'), leave alone the Death in Venice-esque swooning after a beautiful and oblivious young man. And Charles Dickens's plum pudding recipe is swathed in the rich-poor dichotomy of Victorian England, with mentions of the Artful Dodger and cronies.

The household tips section includes a wonderfully bleak section on an old man hanging wallpaper, haunted by regrets and memories of bull fighting days. Bleeding a radiator comes courtesy of Emily Bronte, whose Wuthering Heights is revisited. Milan Kundera ponders on the transparency of windows, drawing analogies with that of governments, but is in the end unable to be faithful to his long-suffering girlfriend. Tiling a bathroom becomes a furtive enterprise under Dostoevsky's tutelage, the old woman's home he's decorating repulsing him and sparking inadvertent damage. Julius Caesar muses on the dual kingdoms of his home ruled by the Adulesceni (with their gods Nike and Nokia) and his wife (`Caesar's wife is in almost daily conflict with the Adulesceni, either trying to keep them out of her territory or raiding their settlements on the upper floor with the aim of imposing her customs and laws.') There is a smart Beckett spoof on Waiting for Godot in which tips about sticking drawers are dispensed. Sartre, overcome by existential angst, becomes nauseated even by his own fingers (`fat white fingers move like grubs') as he unblocks a sink. In the gardening part, Raymond Carver deadpans in characteristically pithy tones, while Amis ll mingles disgust, unerotic sex and smut.

This collection is guaranteed to make even the sourest bibliophilic misanthrope snigger with joy.
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