Review of Three Cheers for Me
I cannot believe that I have not reviewed this favourite until now. I had collected a few words about the longer series that comprise The Collected Bandy Papers (Vols 1 – 9) in a previous post. They are modern day comedy classics and Three Cheers for Me is the one that kicked it off and garnered the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour back in the 60’s.
In point of fact I have read this one on many more than two noted occasions. Needing a good reminder of what exceptional comedic writing can evoke – I needed a mood booster – I turned to this old friend yesterday and savoured a revisit.
Three Cheers for Me is the first in the memoirs of Bartholomew Wolfe Bandy by Donald Jack. It was first published in 1962 and along with subsequent volumes it was very deservedly awarded the Stephen Leacock Award for humour on three occasions. These awards seem all the more appropriate given the very Leacockian prose style of the Bandy papers themselves.
If you have not ever been exposed to Bandy, I can not recommend Three Cheers enough. They are superb examples of the comedic novelist’s art down the line of P.G Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and George Macdonald Fraser. Set in early twentieth century Ontario, B.W. Bandy, the hero is an Ottawa valley farm boy who heads off to fight in the First World War. He meets real life notables along the way, enjoys some of the most brilliantly told adventures and despite the comedic delivery actually teaches much about Canadian history. These novels demonstrate the close connection between literature and history – the enduring importance and beauty of a tale well told.
The late Donald Jack’s talent as a raconteur has the comedic timing so essential not just to written prose, but comedy deliver in any media. But comedy is much deeper than just laughs and the special accomplishment of this book (and the broader series) is his unique ability to relate very poignant and real events using mirth to ultimately captures the human experience.
Amidst the muck and tragedy of war we meet – and Jack’s was a master of rapid and intimate characterisation – a stream of odd and fascinating characters. Theses range from punctilious colonel who is inadvertently harassed to mania by Bandy, to seemingly suspect compatriots that may or may not be out to him, to a mischievous horse that clearly is out to get our hero. All would be utterly ridiculous on their own but when cast in the web of Bandy are believable and play their mirthful roles.
Jack had a unique ability to deliver comedy in that deadpan manner that raised the level of amusement to a new high. I could go on at length about my recollections of Bandy, but instead I would like to end with an excerpt from the first volume of the series, where young Bandy joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force and heads off to Europe. He is placed in charge of a platoon and we find him training a colourful crew on Salisbury Plain in England. Bandy assumes his authority (despite his own experience or natural ability with typical officiousness). As I typed this passage in, I was typing through tears of amusement despite the fact that I have read this passage countless times over the past couple decades. Cheers.
“One day on the grenade range I had a narrow escape. I was in charge of a small party of bombers. One of them was a thin sallow man from Toronto called Soapes. I had been a bit uneasy about him from the start, since he had been showing signs of fright at the thought of hurling a live bomb.
Donald Jack, Three Cheers for Me, McClleland and Stewart, 1962, pp.26-7.
Three Cheers for Me is a remedy for all the dishumours that may ail you. I can only recommend falling into the spell of Jack’s beguiling BW Bandy – I strongly suspect you’ll find yourself hungrily consuming the rest of this series. I did and continue to do so when I turn to them like an old friend.