The livewire is the worst imaginable spectator and denied his professional currency of goals, he kicked his heels in frustration. Yet release finally came for him here, on the Netherlands’ eastern front, when he scored his first goals at club level since August. His composure when the opportunities knocked was as icy as the temperature here and it has given Tottenham a fillip as they look ahead to the turn of the season. With Defoe back in the team and firing, their hopes can soar.
Blaring techno had filled the stadium in the countdown to kick-off but the tempo was somewhat slower when the match got underway, with Spurs seeking to stay solid and use their pace on the counter. Roman Pavlyuchenko frequently dropped off to swell the numbers in midfield.
At Freddie’s by Penelope FitzgeraldChosen by David Nicholls
So many of my early reading memories involve hysterical laughter. There was Adrian Mole, of course, and Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Monty Python books, Woody Allen’s Without Feathers, Geoffrey Willans’s How to Be Topp, Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. Books were prized for being shocking or funny or, even better, both, and the promise that a book would make the reader “laugh out loud” seemed entirely plausible. Why not? It happened all the time.
Less so now perhaps, but a book that consistently makes me laugh is Penelope Fitzgerald’s At Freddie’s, a comic masterpiece from 1982 that really should be better known. It’s set in the early 60s, in a shabby, crumbling stage school in Covent Garden, full of terrifyingly precocious child actors and inept, downtrodden teachers, all presided over by the infamous Frieda “Freddie” Wentworth. Manipulative, enigmatic, sharp-tongued, opinionated, she’s an extraordinary comic creation; imagine Miss Jean Brodie played by Alastair Sim.
* John O’Farrell’s There’s Only Two David Beckhams is published by Black Swan.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest ‘The worse the world gets, the more we need to laugh’ … Marina Lewycka. Illustration: Leon EdlerExtinction by Thomas Bernhard
Chosen by Geoff Dyer
I am not exaggerating when I say that Thomas Bernhard is the funniest writer ever and that Extinction, his last novel, is his funniest. The narrator is in Rome when he learns that his parents and brother have been killed in a car crash back in Austria. The story, in so far as there is one, unfolds in a two-paragraph torrent over 300 pages from a narrator who claims to have “cultivated the art of exaggeration to such a pitch that I can call myself the greatest exponent of the art that I know of”.
Geoff Dyer’s White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World is published by Canongate.
Lint by Steve Aylett
Chosen by Bridget Christie
This satirical biography of the fictional cult writer Jeff Lint is still the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s exhausting: every sentence is so funny and teclado tfue has so many ideas in it that I had to read it really slowly to take it all in. If you find the idea of a baffled chef funny, or titles such as “Jelly Result”, “The Stupid Conversation”, “I Eat Fog”, “The Nose Furnace”, “I Blame Ferns” or “The Man Who Gave Birth to His Arse”, then you’ll love it. Inventive, absurd and audacious, it’s a comic gem.
Frieda “Freddie” Wentworth is an extraordinary comic creation; imagine Miss Jean Brodie played by Alastair Sim
David NichollsBut if Freddie dominates both school and novel, there’s also a wonderful supporting cast, and I particularly like Pierce Carroll, the inept tutor, well intentioned but entirely incapable of controlling his class. There’s Boney Lewis, a charming, drunken actor famed for his Napoleon, an off-stage cameo from Noël Coward and a great comic set piece involving a hysterically pretentious production of King John, full of mad acting and mime.
If the idea of a stage school comedy sounds worryingly winsome, Fitzgerald dodges sentimentality and predictability. She’s clear-eyed about the prospects of the underdog and brilliant at capturing the desperation that lurks behind the smiles and bravado of those on the lower rungs – has anyone written about failure so well? There’s a bracing bitterness to the humour (“No emotion can be as pure as the hatred you feel for a child,” says Boney), and melancholy too, a sense that disaster is never far away; in this respect, the final page is quite unforgettable. Fitzgerald is rightly celebrated for the great, late historical novels such as The Blue Flower, but she is also a first-class, underrated comedian, even when the comedy is played against a backbeat of sadness.
Overdose deaths which hit 340, or nearly one a day, in 2016 took a toll on the county medical examiner’s budget and her staff. At the height of the scourge, they often had to perform two or more drug-related autopsies in an average day.
But were he alive today, Oscar Niemeyer would probably be horrified at the thunderbolt the country’s current leaders are hoping to inflict on three of his most spectacular creations in the futurist capital he helped build.