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The funniest books in Britain? Wodehouse Prize shortlist announced

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction announced its shortlist Thursday, with five novelists competing for the title of Britain's funniest author with the book that "best captures the comic spirit of P.G. Wodehouse," the author of, among many others, the "Jeeves and Wooster" novels. 

"This is one of the strongest shortlists I have seen," said judge and Everyman's Library publisher David Campbell. "All five novels are truly brilliantly funny." Notably absent from the list of finalists this year was perennial British prize-winner Hilary Mantel.

Among the front-runners is Michael Frayn, with his novel "Skios" (also longlisted for the Man Booker this year), a farce of mistaken identity that the judges called "something Wodehouse might have written if Blandings Castle had been perched at the edge of the Aegean." Frayn won the award in 2002 for his novel "Spies."

Another previous winner, Howard Jacobson, is also a strong contender with his novel "Zoo Time," about a writer struggling with an attraction to both his wife and mother-in-law. Jacobson, who won the Booker in 2010 for "The Finkler Question," also won the first ever Wodehouse Award in 2000 for his novel "The Mighty Waltzer."

The other shortlisted nominees are Helen DeWitt for "Lightning Rods," a bawdy story of a failing salesman who tries to stamp out sexual harassment at work; "Heartbreak Hotel" by Deborah Moggach (whose "These Foolish Things" was recently adapted for film as "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), in which a character named "Buffy" Buffery sets up "Courses for Divorces" at an inherited guesthouse; and "England's Lane" by Joseph Connolly, the account of three shop-owning couples in late-1950s London. 

All five novels are available in the U.S., with Moggach's having just been published in March.

The prize, which is to be announced at the Hay Festival in late May, is sponsored by Everyman Books and the French winemaker Champagne Bollinger. As is tradition, the winner will be presented with a jeroboam of Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee, the 52-volume Everyman Wodehouse collection, and, most important, a locally bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, to be named after the winning novel. 

Previous victors include "Solar" (after the novel by Ian McEwan), "The Butt" (Will Self) and "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi" (Geoff Dyer). Perhaps best known is last year's winner, "Snuff" by Terry Pratchett, which gave the literary world what may be its best prize ceremony portrait to date.


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Steven Soderbergh's 12-hour John Barth adaptation, via James Greer


Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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