October 12, 2011

Practical Jean - Trevor Cole

After reading and loving The Best Laid Plans, winner of the 2008 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, I was looking forward to reading Practical Jean, the 2011 winner. Unfortunately I was disappointed.

While The Best Laid Plans made me laugh out loud (literally), Practical Jean left me feeling depressed instead. The blurb on the back of the book describes it as "tragicomic fiction", but in my opinion, the emphasis was on the tragedy rather than the comedy. Some of the adjectives used in the review quotes include black comedy, social satire, comic portraiture, piquant, hilarious, wickedly funny, diabolical deadpan, and mischievous. While I consider myself to have a very keen and sharp sense of humour, the humour in this book was lost on me.

The Jean in the title cares for her mother over the last few months of her life as she dies of cancer; and then decides to spare her best friends the pain and torment of a lingering death by killing them now. While she is presented as being very logical and practical; to me the tragedy is that here is a woman very obviously suffering from depression to the extreme who neither seeks out, nor is offered any sort of support or help. I'm afraid that the humour of a woman with depression systematically murdering her friends was lost on me. There isn't even a comic reversal at any point that would have added to the humour.

I can almost compare it to Swift's A Modest Proposal, but without the social commentary. In that case, it was the reversal of the expected that made it funny. Practical Jean is supposed to be a satire, but to my eyes it isn't satirizing anything.

If anyone else has read this book, please help me out! What did I miss? Why didn't I find it funny?


Suzanne said...

I didn't find it funny, but the premise is humorous. I enjoyed reading it, but I understand where people might not have the same opinion.

Kate said...

Suzanne - I agree that the premise is humourous. I guess my disappointment came in the mis-match between my expectations, and the reality of the read.

Buried In Print said...

I haven't read this one (though I aim to, at some point), but I have had similar experiences; it usually comes down to timing for me. With books that are not said to have a humourous side to them, I am very careful to pay attention to my reading mood (certain serious subjects in fiction require a very particular approach for me) but when it comes to humourous/satirical works, I often overlook this, and I wonder if it's because I think I am/should be always in a mood to appreciate that. And it turns out that I'm just as moody when it comes to funny (sharp, biting funny -- or whatever kind of funny) books.

Kate said...

Buried in Print - I look forward to reading your review after you've read this one. I agree with you that timing does affect my reading of any book, though I am probably not as careful as you seem to be. I don't know what my reading mood was when I read this book - I read it mostly while traveling (airplanes and trains) and a bit while staying with my sister - but whatever my mood was at the time, this book didn't sit well with it.