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 Laughter and Death

 

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection

Reviewer:Tsoteho Valashiya

I've been a lifelong fan of Carol. My first rebellion against my mother was pleading to be allowed to stay up to watch her variety show in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Possibly I was a peculiar child but I rather think that my finding the show so entertaining when I was so little speaks to Carol's talent, quality and class. She is one of those rare comedians that can articulate human foibles well enough to appeal to people of all ages and places. Many skits from that show are funny on the first viewing and equally funny on the hundredth viewing.

This book is a series of stories and anecdotes about the people that she worked with over three decades of actively working in the industry on her television show and specials, plus a few movies. There is nothing shocking or offensive here, just a bit of teasing together with warm regard and high praise. She views her costars and her former husband and family as integral to her success and portrays them accordingly. She's refreshingly humble about her failures, albeit there aren't many of them!

Readers too young to remember Carol as a regular television fixture will still enjoy reading about this period in entertainment. Carol befriended and worked with an impressive list of entertainment icons including Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Lucille Ball among others. Television still had vaudevillian elements then although shows were rarely broadcast live. The space for improvisation and responding to audiences has since been completely engineered out, and these stories about working more spontaneously are really funny. There is the added benefit of exposure to an elegant, refined, gracious, talented and genuinely kind lady. Carol Burnet is truly a star.  

 

Classics corner: Laughter in the Dark   

 

Vladimir Nabokov's novel is both hilarious and deliciously cruel

"Death is often the point of life's joke," is one character's trenchant bon mot in a novel that is itself a cruel and brilliant extended joke. Nabokov lets us in on its punchline straight away. In the opening lines, we're informed that Albinus husband, father, wealthy Berliner art critic (and, it soon emerges, as chinless a nebbish as they come) abandons his wife for the pretty and petulant teenager Margot, who dreams of money and movie stardom. Her venality, slyness and casual cruelty make her deliciously vile; unsurprisingly, things do not end well. As the novel's opening paragraph concludes, Albinus: "loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster".

Nabokov's deadpan narration charges the novel with countless blackly hilarious moments. Rex provides many of them: Margot's first lover, an artist and film producer, enters her and Albinus's grasping relationship as a man whose "itch to make fools of his fellow men amounted almost to genius". And Albinus, naturally, is made a fool of. Returning from his child's deathbed, he finds Margot "supine, smoking lustily", feeling "delicious content". Rex, Nabokov adds with glee, "had left a short time before, well-contented too".

Written in Russian, the novel was translated into English by Nabokov himself after he deemed a previous effort by Winifred Roy lacking. Extraordinarily, though, he still considered it his worst novel. In the pairing of the girlish Margot with the helplessly lustful Albinus, it certainly presages the one widely considered his best. Written 23 years before Lolita, Laughter in the Dark may not have its successor's reach and subtlety, but it contains a final scene that is truly devastating.

 

 

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