a short site about The Divine Comedy

French version

The Booklovers

Lyrics & Music: Neil Hannon

Published by: Damaged Pop Music / BMG Music Publishing Ltd.

Originally interpreted by: The Divine Comedy


To see the lyrics, click on the name of the version you are interested in (on the left).




The third song from Promenade is a Divine Comedy classic. Although it doesn’t feature proper lyrics, but only an enumeration of names and samples, it gave The Divine Comedy the image of a literate band because of the many references. Although the song is said to be influenced by A House’s ‘Endless Art’ [1], it is actually less pop: in fact Neil said that he had written a complex instrumental piece for which no proper lyrics could fit [2].

First, the album version begins with a sample from Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn, during a scene in a book shop where she is supposed to sell a book to a model for a fashion shoot.
The chorus echoes the sample taken from the film Tom Jones which is at the end of Promenade (“Happy the man, and happy he alone,/He who can call today his own./He who secure within can say:/“Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.””). It’s adapted from Horace’s Ode to Man.

In the verses, each name of writer (more or less in chronological order) is followed by a sample. Some samples are taken from films, but others were recorded by the people (including Keith Cullen or Sean Hughes) who came in the studio and to whom Neil asked to choose a couple of names from his list. [3]

The song has been played a few times in ’94-’95, sometimes in an instrumental form, and other times by replacing the writers by footballer’s names. In 2004 during the orchestral tour the song was played in a different form: at each gig a guest would come and read an extract from a novel. In 2015, the song was played live at the Paris Philharmonie where instead of the list of authors, Neil instead read out a list of puns based around “famous people whose names sound like they’re related to books…”

Here is a summary to explain the samples, what they say, and to what they refer:
  • Aphra Behn (“Hello” in a hoarse voice) (England, 1640-1689) is said to be the first female novelist.
  • Miguel De Cervantes (“Donkey”) (Spain, 1547-1616) wrote Don Quixote, where the hero’s sidekick Sancho Panza rides a donkey instead of a horse. Presumably the joke here is that most British people pronounce Don Quixote as “Donkey Oaty”.
  • Daniel Defoe (“it’s a Crisp ‘N Dry day!”) (England, 1660-1731) wrote Robinson Crusoe, where the hero christens his companion Friday, because it’s the day they meet. Crisp ‘N Dry is a British brand of cooking oil – with a famous advertising catchphrase claiming to make any day into a “Fry day”…! (torturous, but oh so funny)
  • Samuel Richardson (“Hello?”) (England, 1689-1761), a novelist best known for 3 epistolary novels.
  • Henry Fielding (“tittle tattle, tittle tattle”) (England, 1707-1754) wrote Tom Jones, a novel of a gossipy style (i.e tittle-tattle). The corresponding extract is said to be taken from the film of the same name with Sir Lawrence Olivier/Albert Finney.
  • Lawrence Sterne (“Hello…”) (Britain, 1713-1768) wrote Tristram Shandy, a novel displaying much bawdy humour, hence the Leslie Phillips-style “Hello…”.
  • Mary Wolstencraft (“Vindicated!”) (Britain, 1759-1797) was one of the first feminists and wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
  • Jane Austen (“Here I am!” in a posh girly voice) (England, 1775-1817) Austen’s heroines are somewhat perky and childish.
  • Sir Walter Scott (“We’re all doomed” in a Scottish accent) (Scotland, 1771-1832) inspired Private Fraser in the sitcom Dad’s Army, another Scot, whose catchphrase was indeed “We’re all doomed!”
  • Leo Tolstoy (“Yes!”) (Russia, 1862-1910) is a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.
  • Honore de Balzac (“Oui!”) (France, 1799-1850) is a French novelist and playwright.
  • Edgar Allan Poe (*horror movie scream*) (US, 1809-1849) wrote short-stories in the fantasy / horror genre
  • Charlotte (“hello?”) (England, 1816-1855), Emily (“hello?”) (England, 1818-1848) and Anne Brontë (“hello?” in a deep man’s voice) (England, 1820-1849). It has been suggested that this is a reference to the fact that they used male pseudonyms to publish their works initially, but Neil confirmed in a 1999 interview that he just thought it was funny and unexpected to have the third voice be a man! [4] One of the female voices was recorded by Alice Lemon of The Catchers, who were recording at The Church studio at the same time.
  • Nikolai Gogol (“Vas chi”??) (Russia, 1809-1852) is a Russian novelist, short story writer and playwright. Not sure what “vas chi” refers to…
  • Gustave Flaubert (“Oui?”) (France, 1821-1880) is a French novelist, and the leading exponent of literary realism.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray (“Call me William Makepeace Thackeray”) (England, 1811-1863) is known for Vanity Fair. Presumably a joke on the standard phrase “Call me Jim” etc.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (“The Letter A”) (US, 1804-1864) wrote The Scarlet Letter, where the heroine stitches a red A for adultery on her clothes.
  • Herman Melville (“Ahoooooy theeeere!”) (US, 1819-1891) wrote sea stories, such as Moby Dick.
  • Charles Dickens (“London is so beautiful at this time of year…”) (Britain, 1812-1870) wrote many novels which took place in London. The sample comes from Michael Palin playing Cardinal Richelieu in an episode of Monty Python (Series 1, Episode 3 – “Court Scene” sketch)
  • Anthony Trollope (“good eveni good-e goo-goo-good-e good-e good-e good-evening”) (England, 1815-1882) was an English novelist and civil servant. Not sure why the voice stammers his introduction, but he did apparently die from a fit of the giggles, so maybe that’s why? (Another Monty Python quote, from Series 1 episode 6.)
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (“Here come the sleepers…”) (1821-1881, Russia). Novelist and journalist. A quote from his piece The Adolescent: “Some sleepers have intelligent faces even in sleep, while other faces, even intelligent ones, become very stupid in sleep and therefore ridiculous. I don’t know what makes that happen; I only want to say that a laughing man, like a sleeping one, most often knows nothing about his face.”
  • Mark Twain (US, 1835-1910) wrote stories about the Mississippi river including Huckleberry Finn. Mississippi is also a notoriously difficult word to spell. The voice playing Mark Twain is Ben Wardle, an A&R man who wanted to sign Neil at the time. [1]
  • George Eliot (“George reads German?”) (Britain, 1819-1880) - This is a sample from the film A Room with a View, which as we all know, Neil was obsessed with. The movie quote does not actually relate to George Eliot, but a character in the film.
  • Emile Zola (France, 1840-1902) wrote J’accuse!, a letter in support of Jewish colonel Dreyfus against anti-Semites.
  • Henry James (“Howdy, Miss Wharton!”) (British of American origin, 1843-1916). He and Edith Wharton (US, 1862-1937) (“Well hello, Mr James!”), mentioned later in the song, were lovers.
  • Thomas Hardy (“Ooo-arrrhhh!”) (Britain, 1840-1928) wrote stories set in the fictional British county of Wessex, meant to be in the West Country, hence the accent.
  • Joseph Conrad (“I’m a bloody boring writer”) (British of Polish origin, 1857-1924) was an impressionist writer. Evidently whoever picked this voice to record wasn’t much of a fan!
  • Katherine Mansfield (*pathetic cough*) (Britain, 1888-1923) died of tuberculosis.
  • DH Lawrence (“Never heard of it”) (Britain, 1885-1930) wrote highly controversial novels with emancipated heroines. Some were even censored (for instance, Lady Chatterley’s Lover). Thus, people who had read him might deny having ever heard of him. This is a sample from the film A Room with a View, based on a novel by EM Forster.
  • EM Forster (*sighing*“Never heard of it”) (Britain, 1879-1970) wrote Maurice, a homosexual story, which was controversial at the time, as well as A Room with a View. This is yet another sample from the James Ivory movie (different from the one before). Presumably a little joke, as everyone who was paying attention would know by now that Neil was obsessed with Forster.
  • James Joyce (“Hello there” in an Irish accent) (Ireland, 1882-1941) Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic. Author of Ulysses, a novel in which everything happens on one day. Neil was trying to read this novel whilst writing Promenade, which gave him the idea for the album’s central concept.
  • Virginia Woolf (“I’m losing my mind!”) (Britain, 1882-1941) suffered from mental health issues and ultimately committed suicide.
  • Marcel Proust (“Je ne m’en souviens plus” = “I don’t remember it any more”) (France, 1871-1922) wrote Remembrance of Things Past.
  • F Scott Fitzgerald (“baaah bababa baaaah”) (US, 1896-1940) wrote ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’. Hence “ba bababa ba”.
  • Ernest Hemingway (“That’s ‘Papa’ to you, son”) (US, 1899-1961) wrote The Old Man And The Sea.He nicknamed himself ’Papa’.
  • Herman Hesse (“Oh es ist so häßlich” = “oh, it’s so ugly”) (Switzerland, 1899-1961) Presumably a play on the similar sound between “Hesse” and the first syllable of “häßlich”.
    Evelyn Waugh (“Whooooaaarrrr!”) (Britain, 1903-1966) A wordplay on his name.
  • William Faulkner (“Tu connais William Faulkner?” = “Do you know William Faulkner?”) (US, 1897-1962) – this is a sample taken from the movie Breathless (A Bout de Souffle), and also in ’When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe’.
  • Anaïs Nin (“The strand of pearls”) (US, 1903-1977) She wrote erotic books, but it’s not exactly clear what the pearls refer to.
  • Ford Madox Ford (“Any colour as long as it’s black”) (Britain, 1873-1939) was actually said by car-maker Henry Ford, who has nothing to do with the British writer
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (“Let’s go to the Dôme, Simone!”) (France, 1905-1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (“C’est exact, present” = “That’s right, here!”) (France, 1908-1986) were a famous couple of intellectuals. Le Dôme was a bar in Paris frequented by many writers it seems.
  • Albert Camus (“The beach… the beach!”) (France, 1913-1960) wrote The Outsider, where the protagonist kills a man on a beach.
  • Franz Kafka (“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”) (Czechoslovakia, 1883-1924) wrote paranoiac works like The Trial. It is unsure if this sample is taken from a film with Harold Pinter, or was provided by Sean Hughes.
  • Thomas Mann (“Mam”) (Germany, 1875-1955). Mam/Mann? With bad handwriting, it works…!
  • Graham Greene (“Call me Pinkie, lovely…”) (Britain, 1904-1991) Greene wrote Brighton Rock, a novel which was adapted into a film with Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. The sample is taken from the film.
  • Jack Kerouac (“Me car’s broken down!” in a Yorkshire accent) (US, 1922-1969) The amusing accent is quite a juxtaposition with his book On The Road, the story of a road trip across the US.
  • William S. Burroughs (“Woowwwwww!”) (US, 1914-1997) took LSD and wrote some quite hallucinatory stuff.
  • Sir Kingsley Amis (*cough*) (Britain, 1922-1995) Not sure if there is any significance to the cough!
  • Doris Lessing (“I hate men!”) (Britain, 1919-2013) is a feminist writer. In the 1990s feminists (particularly female comedians) had a reputation for hating men, so this was probably amusing at the time…
  • Vladimir Nabokov (“Hello, little girl…”) (British of Russian origin, 1899-1977) wrote Lolita, where the protagonist is obsessed with a young girl.
  • William Golding (“Achtung, Busby!”) (Britain, 1911-1993) wrote Lord of The Flies, which describes how a group of young boys beached on a desert island regress to a tribal and violent stage. One of the protagonists is called Busby, and the joke is a reference to the album Achtung Baby by U2 (1991).
  • JG Ballard (“Instrument binnacle”) (Britain, 1930-2009) wrote Crash. ‘Instrument binnacle’ is an expression Ballard uses for a car’s dashboard. This is another line recorded by Ben Wardle.
  • Richard Brautigan (“How are you doing?”) (US, 1935-1984) an American novelist, poet, and short story writer. His work often clinically and surrealistically employs black comedy, parody, and satire, with emotionally blunt prose describing pastoral American life intertwining with technological progress.
  • Milan Kundera (“I don’t do interviews”) (Czech Republic, 1929-) A quick Google suggests that plenty of interviews have been done with the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being so not sure what this is about…
  • Ivy Compton Burnett (“Hello…”) (Britain, 1884-1969) An author of several novels consisting mainly of dialogue and focusing on family life among the late Victorian or Edwardian upper middle class.
  • Paul Theroux (“Have a nice day!”) (US, 1941-) A travel writer, whose best-known work is The Great Railway Bazaar. The quote is presumably some Brit’s dig at the perceived fake cheerfulness of Americans!
  • Günter Grass (“I’ve found some snails!”) (Germany, 1927-2015) A novelist, poet and playwright. Snails… in the grass… get it?
  • Gore Vidal (“Oh, it makes me mad…”)(US, 1925-2012) Another sample taken from Monty Python, in a sketch from series 1, episode 3, where John Cleese is dressed as a chef, hitting a table with a meat cleaver (quite… gory?). Also Vidal was known for getting worked up about various causes.
  • John Updike (“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run run run”) (US, 1932-2009) wrote Rabbit, Run. A novel whose title is presumably based on the wartime song ‘Run Rabbit run’, whose rhythm is used in the quote here.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro (“Ah so, old chap!”) (British writer, born in Japan in 1954) wrote The Remains of the Day, where the main character is a butler in a country house. A juxtaposition between a Japanese-sounding expression (from Japanese ā sō, interjection signaling attention or understanding in conversation), and an English one, which might be used by people in country houses.
  • Malcolm Bradbury (“Stroke John Steinbeck, stroke JD Salinger”) (Britain, 1932-2000) The connection between these 3 authors is unclear, so a strong guess here is that Neil had all 3 written on his list to choose between (i.e. “Malcolm Bradbury / John Steinbeck / JD Salinger”) and whoever picked that line decided to read them exactly like that. (Bradbury wrote the screenplay of the Cold Comfort Farm film).
  • Iain Banks (“Too orangey for crows!”) (Scotland, 1954-2013) One of Banks’s most famous books is called The Crow Road. The sample is a reference to an advert for Kia-Ora orange squash, which starred… animated crows.
  • Dame AS Byatt (“Nine tenths of the law, you know…”) (Britain, 1936) wrote Possession. A reference to the legal proverb “Possession is nine-tenths of the law”.
  • Martin Amis (*Grunt*) (UK, 1949) Presumably a reference to the vulgar behaviour of the characters in many of his books.
  • Brett Easton Ellis (*blood-curdling scream*) (US, 1964-) wrote American Psycho.
  • Umberto Eco (“I don’t understand this either”) (Italy, 1932-2016) wrote books which are considered quite hard to understand.
  • Gabriel García Marquez (“Mi casa, tu casa” = “My house is your house”) (Colombia, 1927-2014). Presumably this was the only Spanish phrase that whoever recorded this voice could remember…
  • Roddy Doyle (“Ha ha ha!”)(Ireland,1958-) wrote Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha.
  • Salman Rushdie (“Names will live forever…”) (India, 1947). It seems that this quote is not specifically related to Salman Rushdie, but a general comment to wrap up the song. It most likely again relates again to A Bout de Souffle, where the film’s heroine is interviewing a journalist and they discuss how artists become immortal once their works are famous (as once again referenced in ‘When The Lights Go Out…’!). This is yet another Monty Python sample, from series 1, episode 6.

[1] Hot Press 05/1994
[2] Best 05/1994
[3] Ben Wardle’s blog
[4] The Liberator Q&A, 1999.