En Bref with Emma Beddington
Who is your favourite novelist of all time?
PG Wodehouse. The Evelyn Waugh quote on the back of the orange Penguin editions is entirely true: Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. That commitment to being consistently, delightfully amusing over decades is so admirable and Wodehouse has that swan-like quality of making something incredibly difficult look effortless. What generosity, what joy.
What is the last book you read that made you laugh?
Marina Lewycka’s new novel The Lubetkin Legacy made me howl. A resting middle-aged actor hatches a plot to make an elderly lady impersonate his mother, allowing him to continue living in her very desirable flat (designed by modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin) after her death. But the elderly lady, Inna, has her own agenda. It features an unreliable parrot, a one-legged pigeon and the most farcically awful burial scene I have ever read. There’s an underlying darkness too, because it’s a book about the dismantling of the ideals of the post-war welfare state in Cameron’s Britain, but angry funny is often the best kind of funny.
What is the last book you read that made you cry?
Nothing makes me cry, I have a hard, shrivelled heart like a walnut. Except – and this is so English and emotionally constipated I sound like Nancy Mitford’s Uncle Matthew Radlett – the death of Cheryl Strayed’s mother’s horse in Wild, which provoked actual floods of tears (I was on a plane at the time and I’m an atrocious flyer, but nevertheless). I found Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk so beautiful and so transporting it was almost physical painful at times (especially the part where she first meets Mabel, the goshawk: “She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel”), but I don’t think I cried. Though actually, I just did, rereading it to get that quote right. I must be softening in my dotage.
If you could require the leader of your country to read one book, what would it be?
I’m going to interpret “your country” as my adoptive country, Belgium, and use it as an excuse to recommend its leaders read Patrick McGuiness’ exquisite Other People’s Countries, a meditation on memory and history and coming from more than one place, which is the experience of so many Belgians, now and always. It’s a beautiful, funny, lyrical testament to an unfashionable corner of the world and there’s a tenderness to it that would serve our leaders well.
What is your favourite sentence from any book ever?
It’s a toss-up between “There’ll be no butter in hell” from Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, which is probably my all-time favourite book and “‘Reality’ sa Molesworth 2 ‘is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder’” (Whizz for Atomms, Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle). Words to live by.