15) Esprit de Corps: Sketches from Diplomatic Life, by Lawrence Durrell
Well, when I discovered that Lawrence Durrell had written a book of humorous short stories set in the British Embassy in Belgrade in the early 1950s, I absolutely had to hunt it down via the on-line second-hand books resources. Well, one cannot call it Great Literature, and he is rather patronising about the Yugoslavs (though in fairness the British diplomats are equally ludicrous stereotypes); it is, however, laugh-out-loud funny in places. The inside front cover quotes John Betjeman saying in a review, “I have not laughed at a new humorous book so much since the days of Stephen Potter’s Gamesmanship” (which is a bit ambiguous as to whether or not he actually found Potter funny, but leaves no doubt about Durrell). The episode of the botched baptism, the butler’s wig and the unfortunate confusion around the bishop’s crozier is probably the most memorable scene. There are some nice illustrations by V.H. Drummond, whose work I don’t think I knew, but I don’t think I can scan them without wrecking the binding so you’ll have to take my word for it. Apparently there are two sequels, Stiff Upper Lip and Sauve Qui Peut, but I don’t feel the need to order them unless I get a positive recommendation (or, of course, unless I see them in a shop when I’m looking for something else).