Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Right Ho, Jeeves

Right Ho, Jeeves
by P. G. Wodehouse
Recommended Ages: 13+

The Jeeves novels are one of the few series of books I have chosen to enjoy without any regard to canon order or the order of publication. Wikipedia has a nice list of the books it comprises, if you're interested. I'm interested, but only so far as making sure that I don't miss any of them. Nothing brightens my outlook on the world after a nutritious diet of serious books on CD, quite like listening to an audio-book of a Jeeves novel read by the likes of Jonathan Cecil or David Ian Davies. The latter gave voice to the characters in this book during a long, tedious road trip this week. It really made the trip for me. The actor gave just the right vocal touch to dimwitted playboy narrator Bertie Wooster, his brilliant but tight-lipped servant Jeeves, his pushy Aunt Dahlia, his thick-necked (not to say thick-headed) clubmate Tuppy Glossop, his weedy old school chum Gussie Fink-Nottle, and many other daffy characters.

While some of the Jeeves books are collections of short stories, this one is a solid (though not very long) novel. Its plot, similar to many other adventures of Bertie and his man Jeeves, has to do with mending two broken betrothals, saving an endangered marriage, distributing prizes at a boys' school, and staving off the resignation of a supremely gifted French chef, all upon a summer holiday in the Worcestershire countryside. In its dimensions it appears to be a trifling piece of entertainment. In its style of narration, it partakes of the stylish slang of a British upper-class dandy riding the crest of fashion a la 1934. By all rights, it out to be as tediously, or even perhaps offensively, outdated as the desiccated corpse of an 80-year-old mayfly. But in fact it comes right to life with humor that still draws chuckles, snorts, and belly-laughs galore.

Harry Potter audio-book reader Stephen Fry, who played Jeeves on British TV, recommends one scene in this book as "the single funniest piece of sustained writing in the language," according to Wiki. According to myself, who enjoyed that very passage with my own ears, the whole book is a treasure. It's a romantic farce that holds together not only by its skillfully constructed plot, but also by its author's unerring genius for drawing forth character details, and by his evident delight in the nuances of the English language. Even tortured as it is on the lips of Bertie Wooster, the power of the word yields enough glittering facets of wit, irony, sarcasm, irritation, insult, foolery, and embarrassment to keep you laughing at, and at the same time squirming on behalf of, Bertie and his friends. It miraculously enables you to smirk satirically at the follies of the idle rich, wallow in an envious fantasy of being among them, and feel a warm but tolerant affection for them, all at the same time. And for all its lightweight and ephemeral qualities, it is so excellently written that it may continue to entertain for at least another eighty years.

This book has also been published in the U.S. under the title Brinkley Manor. It stands little short of midway through a list of Jeeves titles spanning 18 books published over a 57-year period. To-date I have only read six of them. I have a lot of droll, Jeevesy, romantic-comedy fun to look forward to. It's how I plan to reward myself for being a good, hard-working boy who will never be able to live as high as Bertie Wooster does, let alone employ a valet with the brainpower Jeeves has. To which I can almost hear Jeeves replying, "Very good, sir."

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