Writing humor for television doesn't always translate into prose, of course, but Armstrong proves to be just as maniacally funny here as he is on the screen…It is uniquely difficult to combine comedy with something as patently unfunny as the Bosnian war, which killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians. But Armstrong's writing shines just as brightly when his characters are forced to grapple with the breadth of human misery they encounter in the former Yugoslavia…Armstrong never shies away from confronting tragedy, even when he's gone on an extended comic riff one page earlier.
Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals, against all odds, manages to be both hilarious and earnestly, stubbornly true.
The New York Times Book Review - Michael Schaub
In his first novel, Armstrong, an accomplished film and television writer (Veep, Black Mirror), directs his wonderfully arch gaze on a vanful of do-gooders venturing into war-torn Yugoslavia. Following in the footsteps of Susan Sontag, who famously staged Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo, the motley collection of activists decides to “take a peace play to Bosnia and extend the evolution of humanity to a new continuum.” Armstrong satirizes the group’s naïveté, pretentiousness, and blinkered humanitarianism masterfully, all the while sketching a convincing portrait of the Balkans in chaos. Narrating the fiasco is Andrew, a British construction worker with “one of the most coherent foreign policies of anyone working on a building site in the Manchester area.” He is motivated less by a conviction that the play will succeed than a crush on one of the group’s members, Penny, the beautiful daughter of a well-connected lobbyist who strongly disapproves of the mission. Andrew is a Lucky Jim type, alternately feckless and impish, who gets himself into a series of mortifying or perilous situations, living to tell about it in his amusingly ironic voice: “It was just so dangerous to bury bombs where people might walk,” he complains after wandering into a minefield. He is also fundamentally decent, and, unlike some of his companions, a keen observer of the farcical, futile mission. Like the best comedic war literature, Armstrong’s novel is ultimately a tragedy of the absurd. (June)
"Armstrong’s novel is an admirable contribution to the literature of that conflict, its mordant humor effectively balanced by a keen appreciation of the futility and irrationality of war."—BookPage
Jesse Armstrong has dared a lot: written a funny novel—a road novel!—much of it set in the former Yugoslavia in the Age of Milsoevic. Armstrong’s hero, and his not-very-Magnificent Eight (or seven), set off on a dubious peace excursion that takes them from London to the Balkans, with even an attempt at sightseeing at Hitler’s Austrian birthplace. Along the way, Armstrong’s ear for comedy remains keen; as he goes deeper into the killing fields of modern Europe, the laughs are real but never cheap.”—Jeffrey Frank, author of The Columnist, Bad Publicity and Trudy Hopedale
"It's astonishing how many impossible feats Jesse Armstrong manages to pull off in his first novel. This is a comedy about war that succeeds in telling you in a funny way how not funny war is. It's full of mixed-up idealists who you really care for, and whose youthful naivety is both laughable and laudable at the same time. It's an honest and hilariously embarrassing love story whose comedy never diminishes the reality of the torrid international mess going on all around it. And it's all done with a lightness of touch and readability that'll be the envy of most writers. It's a hilarious novel with serious things to say."—Armando Iannuci, producer/creator of I’m Alan Partridge and Veep
"This is a novel that takes comedy out of its comfort zone, too. And the good news is that the more serious Armstrong gets, the funnier and filthier the jokes become."—Sunday Express
"Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals combines the best of sitcom-style drama with just the right amount of gravity to make it a substantial read...Armstrong's debut manages to be clever and fun while also retaining grittiness."—The Independent
"One of our most accomplished TV writers has announced himself as a novelist to watch with the best Waugh-like war story debut novel since William Boyd's A Good Man in Africa almost 35 years ago."—New Statesman
"Very funny and dry."—The Spectator
"You'll also find anough find writing to make you realise that Armstrong is after much more than laughs."—The Times (Saturday Review)
"Humanistic and generous in its humour."—The Times Literary Supplement
"A bravura comic debut...Armstrong's comic voice is versatile, original, unabashed; deployed to reveal rather than obscure."—The Guardian
A Welsh construction worker risks his life for love when he falls in with a band of privileged do-gooders on a mission to war-torn Bosnia circa 1994. Debut novelist Armstrong is a star in Britain for writing Peep Show and In The Loop. He demonstrates his dizzying talent for comedy here in a clever if deeply cynical satire about love, war, and disappointment. Our entry into this adventure is Andrew, a working-class bloke just coming off a long, bad relationship. By accident, he falls in with Penny, the idealistic daughter of wealthy liberals, who declares her plans: "Bob is driving the minibus and we're going to Bosnia to stop that war." This doesn't mean that Penny is solely naïve. "Everyone's corrupted by money, Andrew," Penny says. "But you have to be careful of the rich, because they know exactly how fucking nice it is." Soon Andrew is on the road with Penny; the aforementioned Onomatopoeic Bob; Shannon and Sara, a pair of combative lesbians; and Penny's junkie brother, Von, who happens to be carrying a rock-band-worthy parcel of drugs. Half the book is a very funny road trip through the back alleys of Europe as Penny writes her terrible "peace play" and Andrew vies for her affections. Armstrong ratchets up the venom as they push further into the war zone and Andrew's mates have to reconsider their moral imperatives in the presences of mercenaries, fixers, snipers, and heavy artillery. "Because if by some dash across a checkpoint I could get three thousand, or even just three hundred, men, women and children to safety, if I could shield the last infantryman as he planted the final flag of multi-ethnic victory, then yes…I would make the sacrifice," Andrew admits. "But getting my throat shot out by a sniper on my way to see The Three Amigos badly dubbed at an open-air screening? That wasn't really for me." A very funny British road comedy laced with ecstasy both real and imagined.