Sunday, June 9, 2013

Love Among the Chickens

Love Among the Chickens
by P. G. Wodehouse
Recommended Ages: 12+

You may already have met Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge: a big, loud, swaggering adventurer whose taste in clothing is as doubtful as his respect for other people's property rights. Always "borrowing" his friends' money, often spending it on get-rich-quick schemes that are not quite foolproof enough, and involving his innocent chums in legal trouble and other disasters, Ukridge is the kind of nuisance that you never wish would go away—because wherever he is, something funny is bound to happen.

In this book, his chronicler is a struggling novelist named Jeremy Garnet. "Garny, old horse" (as Ukridge calls him) willingly submits to being dragged along to Dorsetshire on an experiment in chicken farming, Ukridge style. Naturally, anything that could go wrong, does. While Ukridge and his longsuffering wife fend off creditors by every means short of paying them, Jerry falls in love with the daughter of a prickly Irish professor named Derrick. But it's difficult to woo Phyllis when her father has taken offense at Ukridge's tactlessness and declines to be on speaking terms with either of the friends.

Spurred on by jealousy of a rival wooer, Jerry conceives a desperate plan. He bribes the waterman who rows the professor's fishing boat to upset the old fellow, then swims to the rescue and becomes Professor Derrick's hero. This works beautifully for a while—until the waterman exposes the plan, and our hero is more deeply "in the soup" than ever. His only hope of gaining the Professor's consent to marry Phyllis depends on the outcome of a round of golf, just as the trouble at the chicken farm comes down (more or less) to a contest of bare-knuckle boxing between the hired man and a mob of debt collectors. And of course, if Ukridge can be counted on for anything, it's to come through with another outrageous scheme.

This hilarious novel of romance, sporting life, social and financial mischief, and poultry farming features the title character of the short-story collection Ukridge. It was first published in 1906 (UK) and 1909 (US). It was, however, the revised and improved edition of 1921 that I heard on a 4-CD audio-book narrated by the late Jonathan Cecil. A lighter touch on the heart-strings, and a more hilarious flow of wit and absurdity, could hardly be found together under one title.

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