23 NOVEMBER 1991, Page 37

Paul Johnson

The book which made me laugh most in 1991 was A Dubious Codicil (Chatto, £12.99), the second and concluding volume of Michael Wharton's autobiography: very indiscreet, wicked and uproarious, with its cast of real-life grotesques, well up to Peter Simple's best. I also enjoyed the intro- ductions by Margaret Drabble to the six-volume reissue of Jane Ausien's novels by Virago (published at £4.99 each, but I got them new for £2.99 at Sheila Ramage's admirable Notting Hill Books in Palace Gardens Terrace). I didn't always agree with Miss Drabble, as she is a bit of a bas bleu and occasionally lapses into Eng. Lit. Crit., but the great point about Jane Austen is that one can have pleasurable arguments about her, and I found these essays so stimulating that they immediately sent me back, once again, to the novels.