Inside Mr. Enderby (1963)
by Anthony Burgess
I was surprised to learn that only two novels by Anthony Burgess made the original 1001 Books list in 2006, this one and Clockwork Orange. Burgess notoriously hated Clockwork Orange because it was so different from the rest of his books, and that is certainly the case with Inside Mr. Enderby, the first of four volume series of comic fiction about the life of times of the misanthropic poet, Francis Enderby.
When the curtain rises, Enderby is living in the English equivalent of an "SRO" on the south coast of Britain, where he subsists off of a small inheritance from a despised step mother and writes poetry. His poetry is well regarded, but of course, doesn't pay the bills. He spends most of the time in the bathroom because of chronic stomach distress, the description of which makes up a fair portion of the humor in this comic novel.
Enderby's life is turned upside down after he travels to London to receive a cash prize for his poetry, there he crosses paths with Vesta Bainbridge, a beautiful young widow. She approaches him to write poetry for her women's magazine, called FEM. Then, suddenly, he finds himself married to Vesta and whisked off to Rome for a honeymoon. The honeymoon is, as anyone who has read the rest of the book could presume, a disaster and Enderby ends up fleeing in the dead of night back to London, where he is left destitute and creatively blocked.
After a botched suicide attempt he is institutionalized and convinced by the resident psychiatrist that his entire life has been an extended adolescence brought about by his unresolved feelings about his stepmother. I'm recounting the plot to show what passed for an English "comic novel" in the mid 1960s. Inside Mr. Enderby is just as tragic as any Thomas Hardy novel, but all the sadness is played for laughs.