Introduce me to some funny narrators!
February 17, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for some new books to read, and it occurs to me that some of my very favorite books have excellent, well-developed, funny narrators. I'm looking for the kind of book where you might forget the plot, but you'll never forget the person who told you the story.

Examples of what I'm looking for: books with characters like Sally Jay Gorse from The Dud Avocado, Bertie Wooster from PG Wodehouse's books, Bridget Jones from her diaries, Sunshine from Robin McKinley's book of the same name, Daisy Fay from Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Adrian Mole, Tristram Shandy, Cassandra from I Capture the Castle, Pooter from Diary of a Nobody.

Books can be in diary format, but that's not required.
posted by zoetrope to Writing & Language (56 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
My favourite book ever: The Rachel Papers, by Martin Amis.
posted by veedubya at 9:03 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bill Bryson.
posted by Melismata at 9:04 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Most things by Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by JHarris at 9:05 AM on February 17, 2012

motherless brooklyn - jonathan lethem
posted by rhizome at 9:07 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Absurdistan is like this (and to a lesser extent, so is Shteyngart's more recent Super Sad True Love Story).
posted by yellowcandy at 9:13 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie might do it for you.
posted by bcwinters at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Eli, the narrator in The Sisters Brothers is great.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:17 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you like Wodehouse, you might enjoy Don't Point That Thing At Me, by Kyril Bonfiglioli; the narrator and central character is a kind of filthy immoral criminal version of Wooster.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:20 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (yes, that Hugh Laurie) has a pretty great narrator.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:21 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Confessions of a crap artist --one of my favorite Philip K Dick novels. Very entertaining narrator.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 9:22 AM on February 17, 2012

Death narrates The Book Thief and is also quite interesting, although not terribly funny.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2012

Sasha in Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park is wonderful. Bronsky's other novel (also available at the link) has an unforgettable narrator as well.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:36 AM on February 17, 2012

A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the funniest book series I've ever read, despite its very dark themes and tonality, because of the intriguing and entertaining narrator Lemony Snicket.

To borrow from Wikipedia: "Lemony Snicket's narration and commentary is characteristically cynical and despondent. In the excerpt for each book, Snicket warns of the misery the reader may experience in reading about the Baudelaire orphans and suggests abandoning the books altogether. However, he also provides ample comic relief with wry, dark humor." Snicket also "frequently explains words and analogies in incongruous detail." And he "often goes off into humorous or satirical asides, discussing his opinions of various matters, or his personal life. The details of his supposed personal life are largely absurd, incomplete and not explained in detail."
posted by datarose at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

The late, great David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster is hilarious. There's a large essay in the book about the Adult Video News Awards that's really somethin' else.

I personally found Junot Diaz's The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to be both fascinating and amusing, particularly if you get the occasional Spanish references sprinkled throughout the book.

You can't go wrong with Bill Bryson, most of the time.

Anything by David Sedaris is going to be a sure winner.

Lastly, both E.B. White and George Orwell, who are primarily known for their fiction, are both very skilled essayists and much of their work is rife with a kind of dark humor in that they speak often of the strangeness of life, the peculiarity of people.
posted by Modica at 9:41 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

The George MacDonald Fraser Flashman books.
posted by Cocodrillo at 9:42 AM on February 17, 2012

Jesus, Ignatius J. Reilly is rolling in his over-sized grave for not being mentioned yet. A Confederacy of Dunces, now.
posted by one_bean at 9:43 AM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I recommend The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets to anyone who liked I Capture the Castle.
posted by Duffington at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2012

Everything is Illuminated has a funny narrator.
posted by amodelcitizen at 9:56 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out the mordant (forgive me, could not resist) protagonist/narrator of Glen Duncan's "The Last Werewolf."
posted by Currer Belfry at 10:01 AM on February 17, 2012

The funniest book I've ever read, literally burst out laughing numerous times on the subway. People must have thought I was nuts.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

Also pretty entertaining is The Princess Bride by William Goldman
posted by Grither at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love that someone else already mentioned Bonfiglioli!

Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files series has a fantastic, wacked-out narrator, private eye Izzy Spellman.

James Hamilton-Paterson's trilogy (at least to date) Cooking With Fernet Branca, Amazing Disgrace, and Rancid Pansies feature an incredible opera buff/celebrity ghostwriter/chef of truly disgusting recipes narrator.

Coffee Will Make You Black, by April Sinclair, has a really lively narrative voice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
posted by stampsgal at 10:20 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Lemony Snicket books.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books and Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are hysterical, not least because of their narration.

For female narrators and based on your list of what you like, two that spring to mind right away are Winifred Watson's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Margaret Halsey's With Malice Toward Some.

Fannie Flagg is also incredible at this, in so many books, but if I had to pick only one, please check out Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man - I actually cried laughing parts of that one, entirely because of the character's narration.
posted by Mchelly at 10:26 AM on February 17, 2012

'Henderson, the Rain King' by Saul Bellow.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:28 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding quite a bit of Kurt Vonnegut's work. From what I've read of his non-fiction essays and interviews, there is quite a bit of the man himself in most of his first-person narrator characters; they tend to be very similar from novel to novel. But if you like his sardonic but gentle style, that's a good thing.
posted by usonian at 10:30 AM on February 17, 2012

Dear Mr. Capote by Gordon Lish is very dark if you like sardonic stuff. He edited work for Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor and taught or teaches at the Iowa writer's workshop.
posted by mrsjohnson at 10:34 AM on February 17, 2012

Mike Carey's Felix Castor, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden and Corwin and Merlin from Roger Zelazny's Amber series are all enjoyable as narrators.
posted by rjs at 10:36 AM on February 17, 2012

Came in to second Grither's recommendation for Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Excellent, memorable, hilarious narrator.
posted by ninjakins at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2012

Leo Gursky in Nicole Krauss's History of Love. Just read the first few pages here. If it grabs you, read it; if it doesn't, don't.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Link to History of Love.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2012

True Grit by Charles Portis is narrated by the girl from the movie, and is jam-packed with wondrous dialogue and her hilarious point of view. It's one of the funniest books I've read in some time, and much of that is purely the narrator.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson is even funnier. The narrator isn't a character, but is side-splittingly deadpan. I had no expectation that the book would be more than a rollicking adventure story (which it is) but it's even funnier than it is fun.
posted by lhputtgrass at 11:07 AM on February 17, 2012

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchet. Death has an existential crisis.
posted by wwax at 11:22 AM on February 17, 2012

Also in the Wodehouse vein is Wake Up, Sir! Jonathan Ames' very funny homage to Jeeves and Wooster
posted by Clustercuss at 11:26 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Non-fiction, but Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:49 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mil Millington isn't serious literature by any stretch but it's funny stuff.
posted by Justin Case at 11:50 AM on February 17, 2012

Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:57 AM on February 17, 2012

Any of the Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser. You might start with Flashman at the Charge.
posted by lex mercatoria at 12:37 PM on February 17, 2012

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Do the Windows Open? by Julie Hecht
posted by odeon at 1:18 PM on February 17, 2012

The Rumpole books by John Mortimer might be up your street.
posted by philipy at 1:19 PM on February 17, 2012

CivilwarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
posted by odeon at 1:20 PM on February 17, 2012

An Orson Scott Card story called "Dogwalker" left a big impression in my mind. The narrator is slightly off-kilter, and the whole thing takes place in a cyberpunk environment.
posted by tacodave at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2012

You want My Happy Life by Lydia Millet.
posted by Mila at 2:22 PM on February 17, 2012

Or perhaps not. The narrator is hilarious and unforgettable, but based on the examples you gave that I recognize, you may not be looking for such a grim story.
posted by Mila at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2012

High Fidelity.

Not funny, but great first-person narration: Remains of the Day.

And forty some odd Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout, as narrated by Archie Goodwin.
posted by Zed at 3:06 PM on February 17, 2012

Many readers seem to like the narrator in Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, though I didn't love the book myself. I'm particularly fond of Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield and ALL the James Herriot books.
posted by peripathetic at 6:12 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Horse Badorties, the hippie narrator of William Kotzwinkle's The Fan Man.
posted by nicwolff at 7:50 PM on February 17, 2012

You guys are fabulous! I've read a lot of these already, but more importantly I have liked the suggestions that I've read, which makes me really hopeful about the ones I haven't.

Please keep them coming!
posted by zoetrope at 8:51 PM on February 17, 2012

Austen Kittridge is the narrator of Frank Mosher's Northern Borders. This is a touching and hilarious story of a boy's life in the Northern Kingdom area of Vermont. The time intersects the old back country independent way of life with modern time. A vanishing world.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:22 PM on February 17, 2012

Many yesses to Vonnegut - perhaps especially Slapstick in terms of this question.
And adding Tom Robbins to the pile.
posted by D.Billy at 4:19 AM on February 18, 2012

John Lanchester's Debt to Pleasure has a an absolutely wonderful narrator, the "brilliant, arrogant, pedantic, almost grotesquely loquacious" Tarquin Winot. The whole book is an exploration of this mad culinary genius: his recipes, his adventures in a trip across France, and his life up to that point. It's all rather over the top, but delicious just the same.
posted by col_pogo at 6:27 AM on February 18, 2012

George Singleton writes some very funny stories and a couple of funny novels that might just fit your bill. Most of his narrators are hapless males along the Wooster line except from the South. And he will definitely make you laugh out loud. A good place to start is Why Dogs Chase Cars, it's a collection of interlocking stories, so the narrator is the same.
posted by Francis7 at 10:19 AM on February 18, 2012

I strongly second Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.

"Gentleman Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos is much in the same vein as 'Dud Avocado'.
posted by of strange foe at 3:38 PM on February 18, 2012

Jane Austin is great for exactly this reason. The key to enjoying her writing is to realize that her narrator is making fun of her characters all the time.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:50 PM on February 19, 2012

Florence King.
posted by flex at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2012

Seconding A Confederacy of Dunces and would like to add "Why not me?" by Al Franken, about his (fictional) run for the presidency. Hilarious!
posted by getawaysticks at 8:02 PM on February 22, 2012

The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks by Robertson Davies
posted by benzenedream at 1:08 AM on February 23, 2012

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