There’s no doubt that Jane Austen had a pretty wacky sense of humour. What survives from her writings as a teenager shows her keen sense of the ridiculous and her sharp eye for parody. Austen would probably have liked Pied And Prodigious by D. M. Andrews quite a lot; it shares her pythonesque sensibilities.
Indeed, the spirit of Monty Python is alive and well in this book. It reads almost like one of the Pythons’ extended sketches – The Golden Age Of Ballooning comes to mind! – because it’s such a sharp mixture of accurate send-up and witty silliness. Many of the characters are reminiscent of Michael Palin’s approach to comic writing: they all have their strange little individual obsessions which tip them over into the delightfully absurd.
All the familiar Austen favourites are here, of course. Mr Bennett, or rather Mr Bayonet, has no thoughts beyond his accounts, while Mrs Bayonet is as hysterically keen to marry off her daughters as ever (and make sure they wear really nice bonnets). The excitement surrounding the arrival of Mr Blingley sends all the Bayonet sisters into a right tizzy, and Mr Dicey, with his positively enormous inheritance at Wemberley, spends most of his time judging everyone by the height of their hat.
…That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in the mud, and by herself, was almost incredible to them all, except for Mr Dicey who often took occasion to jump into dirty ponds when no one was about. It was good for the circulation, he maintained. Or, at least, he would if anyone ever found out about it…
This is an ideal tea break book, in that it’s the sort of thing you can pick up for ten minutes, read a chapter of, and walk away from with a smile on your face every time. The chapters are all quite short, and the overall length of the book is concise enough for the whole thing not to outstay its welcome. Of course, it helps if you already have a good knowledge of the original, but that’s hardly going to be a problem!
“…How cute,” said Jane. “Nice little bears. Oh Lizzy, look! Someone has spilt ink over the pretty pictures, and a spider must have crawled through it!”
“That is writing, Jane,” said Lizzy. “It is from Miss Blingley…”
It’s a brave writer who sends up one of the most beloved novels of all time, but Mr Andrews does it pretty well.
Reviewed by Simon Cheshire
Pied and Prodigious is available in Kindle format
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