The funniest book I read last year was a short novella called Man Overbored by Paul Laverty – and he’s just released a new comic novella called Cider Country.
As with Man Overbored, Cider Country is about a motley group of misfits – although instead of being on a sinking cruise ship, this time they’re working in an apple orchard for a pittance.
The style is also similar – think PG Wodehouse mixed with John Kennedy Toole, and then make it more risqué. That, combined with the short length (I inhaled it in three days just by reading it over breakfast) makes it perfect pandemic reading.
A big difference with Cider Country, however, is its narrative arc. Whereas Man Overbored simply showed snapshots of characters in various states of falling apart, Cider Country keeps returning to the central plight of Dom, a former finance journo who got busted in the Royal Commission into banking for taking bribes to write puff pieces for banks. Oddly enough, despite Dom’s former penchant for immoral cash grabs, prostitutes and cocaine, he’s actually the moral heart of the novella as he protests at the racism meted out by the orchard manager.
I like that this book has a trajectory – unlike Man Overbored, which was largely just a set of vignettes – and yet, hypocritically, my favourite part of Cider Country are the little third-person vignettes filled with various desperate characters such as the Thai pickers who think they’ve discovered an undercover prince on the lam, and the ex-con who fantasises about going back to prison and what he can do to get there.
It’s rare to find books that offer such a simply joy in reading them – and for this reason alone, I hope Laverty writes a third novella. I’m beginning to realise I need more comic vignettes in my life.