Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Review: Thank You, Jeeves. by P. G. Wodehouse
Unabridged Audible version narrated by Jonathan Cecil
Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):
When Bertie insists upon playing the banjolele, to the distress of his neighbors and his impeccable valet Jeeves, Jeeves is forced to take drastic action. He leaves B.'s service. But Bertie is entirely dedicated to his art, and decides to rent one of his friend Lord Chuffnell's cottages so as to pursue his banjolele studies away from the madding (and maddened) crowd... only to learn that Jeeves has taken employment as Chuffy's valet at Chuffnell Hall. Right-ho, then. There is the usual romantic imbroglio; a former fiancée of Bertie's, Pauline Stoker, enters the picture as Chuffy's guest while her father, the American millionaire J. Washburn Stoker, considers the purchase of Chuffnell Hall. Of course Pauline and Chuffy proceed to fall madly in love, and when they fall out, it's up to Bertie to set things to rights again. Only, without Jeeves, it's a deuced awkward business, wot?
Note: There is something of a plot spoiler in here, but I think it would entice rather than spoil. Still, you've been warned.
When I watch a television show, regardless of how long it's been running, I always start at the beginning. So, for example, when I started watching the reboot of BBC's Doctor Who, I started with "Rose," episode one of series one, and watched every single episode from 2005 to the most recent, "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe."
By and large, I'm the same way with books when I know that a book is a part of a series, I try and seek out the first book in the series. However, having been familiar with many of the stories of Jeeves and Wooster from the A&E series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, I've relaxed this habit a bit when it comes to reading the short stories and novels of P. G. Wodehouse featuring Bertie Wooster and his man, Jeeves.
Thank You, Jeeves, serialized and later published in 1934, is the first full-length novel featuring this duo and I find I'm of two minds about it. On the one hand I didn't feel as anchored to the plot as I did with The Code of the Woosters (1938). This caused my attention to wax and wane despite Jonathan Cecil's thoroughly enjoyable narration of the audiobook. I recognize Bertie's banjolele playing as the inciting incident for the entire plot and I understand how it escalates and causes Bertie to leave for the country and Jeeves to leave his service. It's when we get to the country that I get a little fuzzy, mostly as regards Sir Roderick Glossop. My understanding of his role in all of this is a bit shaky. I'm sure a second reading would clear that up.
Having said that, my less than rock solid handle on the plot and Glossop's character allowed me to focus on things like language and Bertie as the narrator, more than I did when listening to The Code of the Woosters. What I love is the way that, based on the two books I've read so far, Wodehouse manages to lightly introduce a tension-creating idea, hinting at it or anticipating it and then just before Bertie deals with it, a related but also slightly tangential idea is introduced.
A perfect example of this is when, towards the end of the novel, the cottage where Bertie is staying in the country comes to be on fire. He's made aware of this fact but instead of reacting the way we would expect a character to do, his circumstances and his character lead him to think of Robinson Crusoe (if, as he would say, it was Crusoe he he means) making a "credits" and "debits" list of his situation, and he starts listing off positive and negative things about both the macro and micro situations he finds himself within. I found it so funny I literally laughed out loud and it tipped the scale from "I'm not sure if I'm going to review this book because I'm shaky on the plot" to "this scene is worth the price of reading the whole book."
As when I was reading The Code of the Woosters, I love the subtlety of Wodehouse's writing that's evident here. The way he manipulates conflict and employs jokes by touching on a potentially difficult situation and lets his characters react in what may be a very British way, I'm not sure. There's a lack of directness in his British characters like Bertie that we do glimpse in Pauline Stoker and her father, both Americans.
I gave the book three stars out of five on Goodreads because, although I do appreciate the subtleties I picked up on with the way Wodehouse seems to approach conflicts in this series, I was disappointed that I didn't have as firm a grasp on the plot as I had with The Code of the Woosters. That may have been my fault, and perhaps on a second reading I'll reconsider.
One thing's for certain: I will continue to read more Wodehouse. If you like light, fun, British comic lit, you can't go wrong with P. G. Wodehouse.