Review: Stephen Leacock – Literary Lapses

Literary LapsesLiterary Lapses by Stephen Leacock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s rare I read anything which causes me embarrassment in public with suppressed snorts of hilarity and fits of the giggles, and I can’t remember anyone who’s hit that button quite as well as Leacock did with me in this collection of essays, ‘short stories’, reflections, propositions, satires and… well, just about everything under the sun bar poetry and the odd three-volume epic.

I gather Spike Milligan was influenced by Leacock who then, in turn, influenced the Monty Python team giving us the world as we know it today. Well, not all of it, but many of the bits that matter. I guessed that before I found it to be true. Leacock is so off-the-wall at times he takes the plaster with him. Supposed autobiographical anecdotes are so ridiculous as to be quite unbelievable, and satire has its sharp edges and pointy bits removed through the surrealism of the pastiche. Occasionally, Leacock leads himself so far up the garden path that he has no way of going any further, leaving it with an effective ‘That’s silly’ before veering off into new territory, but when he does so the timing is so perfect I even got a belly-laugh out of that.

There doesn’t seem much in the world he doesn’t put up for scrutiny, from daily life to maths via art and literature, (not that those are dots easily joined). The pieces are almost invariably very short, a few minutes’ reading apiece, and this is probably something to have on a phone or an E-reader for those odd wasted spaces in the day to dip into and out of again, a method I now wish I’d followed instead of swallowing the entire book in a few days’ reading cover-to-cover.

This was going to be a five-star review, but lost a star in retrospect given some measure of inconsistency. There were items which didn’t hit the mark but, to be fair to Leacock, it would probably prove impossible to write so many vignettes without some going awry. Such is the nature of experimentation. Sometimes the litmus paper just gets damp. For this to have been a five-star work would have been a miracle. For it to get four is incredible enough.

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