Entertainment & Arts

Former winner Marina Lewycka up for Wodehouse book prize

Book covers Image copyright Penguin/Transworld

Marina Lewycka, Paul Murray and John O'Farrell are among the authors vying for an award celebrating the year's funniest novels.

The annual Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is given to the book considered to best capture the comic spirit of PG Wodehouse.

Lewycka, shortlisted for The Lubetkin Legacy, was the 2005 winner with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

The winner will be announced ahead of the Hay Festival which begins 26 May.

Previously shortlisted authors Murray and O'Farrell are joined on this year's shortlist by debut author Hannah Rothschild and New Yorker Paul Beatty.

Hay Festival founder Peter Florence said: "There's extraordinary range here - from black satire to a lighter 'human comedy'.

"There's writing that makes you laugh out loud, and truths told that make you shriek with delight and recognition. The marvel of the shortlist is that all of these books will give you 10 hours of joyful company."

Florence is joined on the judging panel by broadcaster and author James Naughtie, Everyman's Library publisher David Campbell and comedian Sara Pascoe.

Image copyright Oneworld/Bloomsbury

The five shortlisted novels are:

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Oneworld)

Set in Dickens, California, a town that is literally wiped off the map. To right this wrong, the narrator starts a campaign to restore the town to glory by the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school.

Sara Pascoe: "The meaty dynamism of Beatty's language and his fiery intellect combine to take literary comedy in an exciting and hilarious new direction."

The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka (Fig Tree, Penguin Random House)

A look at the pitfalls of North London life in the 21st century.

Jim Naughtie: "Marina Lewycka creates another upside down world in The Lubetkin Legacy. Her ear catches everything, and she never loses her love of the absurd. A warming, funny story."

The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin)

The story of two Dubliners: Claude, a banker who decides to rob his own bank and struggling novelist and crook Paul, who helps him do it.

Peter Florence: "Murray's setup is funny, the elegant zip of his sentences make you smile, his novel is an achingly topical, clever, delightful tale of folly and delusion. We loved it."

There's Only Two David Beckhams by John O'Farrell (Black Swan, Transworld)

O'Farrell imagines England reaching the final at the Qatar World Cup in 2022 and the crisis of one journalist who could undo it all by revealing a scandalous secret.

Sara Pascoe: "O'Farrell once again proves his immense comedic abilities with a book that is gag-crammed, ridiculous and fantastical."

Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (Bloomsbury)

The heroine finds herself plunged into the London art world where skulduggery and big characters abound. The book is also longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Prize.

David Campbell: "The Improbability of Love is a wonderful satire on the art trade, preposterous billionaires, Russian oligarchs and much else, a brilliant conceit faultlessly carried off. I was very sad to finish this gloriously funny novel."

As part of the prize, the winner is presented with a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig which is named after the winning novel.

Last year's winner was Alexander McCall Smith for his novel Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party.

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