(Inspired by a comment on my previous post, I decided to re-post a review from 2009.)
Humor is funny in that what will send one person into peals of laughter can leave another person totally straight-faced. Tonight I was watching “Keeping Up Appearances”, one of my favorite British sitcoms, and laughing out loud at the antics of Hyacinth, Daisy and Rose, despite having seen this episode numerous times. It was just as well that I was enjoying it by myself, because I’m the only one in my family who really gets a kick out of the show. Everyone else finds Hyacinth’s snobbery absurd and rather annoying. I suppose it evens out on the “Cosmic Humor Scale”, since I never laugh at The Three Stooges.
I think finding humor in books is just as individual and subjective–maybe even more so than visual or audio comedy. At least with sitcoms or stand-up routines, I can tell when the performers meant something to be funny, even if it doesn’t make me laugh. Performance comedy has a certain pace and rhythm; jokes are told with inflections and voices meant to enhance the comedic effect. Sometimes when it’s just me interacting with words on paper, I don’t quite hear in my head the voice that the author intended for the narrative and the joke falls flat. Or worse I don’t even realize it was supposed to be a joke. Such was the case in junior high when I read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” with genuine horror and disgust at the author’s callous disregard for the poor. It happened again in college when I read “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor; I thought the characters were cruel and a little disturbing, while my classmates found it funny when the traveling salesman made off with the heroine’s wooden leg, leaving her stranded in the hay loft.
And so it is that I find myself wondering if the book I’ve enjoyed the least this year would be highly amusing to other readers. I was excited when I found Elizabeth Peters’ first book in her Amelia Peabody Mystery series at a used book store. I enjoy mysteries and was intrigued by the idea of a Victorian lady solving mysteries in Egypt. But by the middle of Crocodile on the Sandbank, I wanted to give Miss Peabody a good hard whack on the bustle with that “sturdy parasol” she was so fond of brandishing. Honestly! To hear Miss Peabody talk (and since she is the narrator of the book, you hear her talk a lot), you would think that she alone of all the inhabitants of earth possessed the necessary skill and fortitude for–well, just about anything. I’m afraid I would have been tempted to abandon her in the middle of her sandy escapades with the mummy and the archeologists who unearthed him, if I hadn’t been stuck in planes and airports most of that day. But with nothing better to do, I kept reading and was suddenly surprised to find myself chuckling at a particular description of her antics a few chapters from the end. “Good grief,” I thought to myself, “Is this what I was supposed to be doing from the start? Laughing at her?” Maybe since it was a mystery, I wasn’t looking comedy and therefore didn’t find the humor in it. Oh well. Crocodile on the Sandbank did provide a distraction from a long day of travel, but it didn’t make me interested in continuing the series.
Barnes & Noble Synopsis: Thirty-one-year-old Victorian gentlewoman Amelia Peabody has not only inherited her father’s fortune, but she is also blessed with his strong will as well. Now she’s headed for Cairo, accompanied by a girl with a tarnished past, to indulge her passion for Egyptology. Little did she know that murder and a homicidal mummy lay in wait for her.
First Line: When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes, she was walking the streets of Rome—(I am informed, by the self-appointed Critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error. If those seemingly simple English words do indeed imply that which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing.)
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who enjoys a light-hearted mystery. Someone who is a little quicker on the uptake than I with regard to humor written tongue-in-cheek. (My mother is Someone.)
Would I read it again: Maybe. I think I’d be more likely to try it as an audio book the second time around; maybe it would be easier to laugh at the characters that way.
My personal rating: 3 out of 5