The best satirical novels that make you laugh and cry

Devorah Blachor Author Of The Feminist's Guide to Raising a Little Princess: How to Raise a Girl Who's Authentic, Joyful, and Fearless--Even If She Refuses to Wear Anything but a Pink Tutu
By Devorah Blachor

The Books I Picked & Why

Fludd: A Novel

By Hilary Mantel

Book cover of Fludd: A Novel

Why this book?

No living writer rivals Hillary Mantel in terms of sheer accomplishment and talent, so it might be annoying for us mortals to learn that on top of it all, she is also very, very funny. Fludd was a wonderful surprise for me after reading her previous works. A mysterious curate joins the parish of a small, bleak British and Catholic town whose priest has lost his faith and whose parishioners are wallowing in superstition. What could possibly go wrong? Mantel elegantly satirizes the eccentricities and harsh judgments of the religious townsfolk, while giving us a thoroughly pleasurable read about faith and love.    

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The Sellout

By Paul Beatty

Book cover of The Sellout

Why this book?

I grew up in the United States and lived there until I was 21, and like many people my age, I was brainwashed into believing that because slavery ended in 1865, and because the civil rights movement of the 1960s successfully advanced the rights of Black people, that the issue of racism in America was mostly resolved. I know I know – this is remarkably ignorant, and yet this narrative is also the one driving conservatives who are actively eroding Black voting rights, blocking meaningful criminal justice reform, banning books about racism, opposing the establishment of a social safety net, and generally sabotaging all efforts to achieve racial justice. 

You would think the enduring racism embedded in American institutions would be impossible to satirize, but you’d be wrong. Paul Beatty has written a brilliant biting novel about racism, slavery, and the inability of Americans to confront and address the sins of our past. In his struggle to come to terms with his relationship with his father, his lost neighborhood, and himself, the narrator Bonbon takes us on a wild ride, skewering everything in its path. The Sellout made me laugh but it also broke my heart at times. As we witness the hysterical conservative backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the ridiculous lengths they’re going to whitewash the history of slavery and racial injustice in the United States, this book is more relevant today than when it was written in 2015.

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What a Carve Up!

By Jonathan Coe

Book cover of What a Carve Up!

Why this book?

This is a masterclass in satirical writing but also just in novel writing. Coe manages to combine a gripping narrative and murder mystery with a scathing indictment of Great Britain in the 80s, when venal wealth was king and the country lost its soul. This was one of those books where I felt like I learned so much, about British culture, politics, corruption, and a 1961 comedy horror movie that shares its name with the book title, but I didn’t notice it because I was having such a good time. There are so many layers to the plot – and inventive dimensions to the way the story is told - and it’s one of my favorite books of all time.  

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By Andrew Sean Greer

Book cover of Less

Why this book?

Less is an extremely fun and clever novel about love, middle age, and the indignities of writing. But Greer isn’t just telling us a story – he’s also imagining the criticism writing such a “low stakes” book might arouse. And then he deftly reveals to us why such narratives – emotionally satisfying love stories with no greater consequence than the happy ending – are still so important. The effect is joyous, and I haven’t even gotten into how hilarious this book is, with language as crafty as Catch 22 and jokes that rival Jane Austen. There is a sweetness at the heart of this book that made me love Less, and I started rereading it as soon as I had finished. 

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Postcards from the Edge

By Carrie Fisher

Book cover of Postcards from the Edge

Why this book?

Carrie Fischer became an icon after playing Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, but there’s a whole subpopulation of women who idolize Carrie and still mourn her death for an entirely different reason. We love her writing, and also who she was – honest, vulnerable, subversive, and hilarious. In my 20s, I read three Carrie Fischer novels in a row. Sometimes you have that youthful moment when you connect with the voice of a writer so strongly, that you become forever devoted to them. For me, this author was Carrie Fischer. The novel is about an actress who goes to rehab, so, like the others mentioned here, there’s an autobiographical thread running through it. I love Carrie’s honest writing, her wicked insights into the human condition, and her heroic sense of humor in the face of being a woman in Hollywood and on the planet. 

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