Friday’s Forgotten Books: Puckoon

Spike Milligan’s Puckoon

Once again this is a “forgotten” book only in the States; Spike Milligan is an icon for many in Britain and Ireland (not to mention the rest of the world). My Penguin copy actually has a note on the back cover, “For copyright reasons this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A.” I bought it in Skoob some time ago (ah, Skoob, where I have whiled away many an hour).

I’m not going to write an entire review as there is a superb one by Jim Murdoch available. Rather I want to focus on why it’s such a funny book and I love it. “This damn book nearly drove me mad,” Milligan writes in the foreward, “I started it in 1958 and doodled with it for 4 years. I don’t think I could go through it all again, therefore…this will be my first and last novel.” Fortunately, that didn’t prove to be true.

I love mad chaotic humor like Milligan created for the Goons (and yes, of course Peter Cook, source of my endless fascination with world domination). Milligan could be rather erratic as his personal histories attest, but when he was on, there was an elegant madness that makes you marvel as well as laugh. Long before it became a staple of post-modern literature, Milligan made himself a character as well as The Author, leading to exchanges between the two of them like this:

…He rolled his trousers kneewards revealing the like of two thin white hairy affairs of the leg variety. He eyed them with obvious dissatisfaction, After examining them he spoke aloud. ‘Holy God! Wot are dese den? Eh?’ He looked around for an answer. ‘Wot are dey?’ he repeated angrily.
   ‘Legs? LEGS? Whose legs?’
   ‘Mine? And who are you?’
   ‘The Author.’
   ‘Author? Author? Did you write these legs?’
   ‘Well, I don’t like dem. I don’t like ’em at all at all. I could ha’ writted better legs meself. Did you write your legs?’
   “Ahhh. Sooo! You got some one else to write your legs, some one who’s a good leg writer and den you write dis pair of crappy old legs fer me, well mister, it’s not good enough.’
   ‘I’ll try and develop them with the plot.’

Delightful, eh? This is the kind of writing I aspire to do. It reads as if pouring from the brain spigot but of course, as Milligan’s foreword makes plain, it’s very hard work to achieve even if the prose reads effortlessly. Always the case.

If curious about the 2002 film version, here’s the trailer. I’m not encouraged. For more Forgotten books, check out Patti Abbot’s blog every Friday.