Friday, May 04, 2012
Thank you, Jeeves - PG Wodehouse
Bertie Wooster has become enamoured of the banjolele but is getting nothing but grief from his neighbours and his valet Jeeves. After a severe disagreement about the instrument causes Jeeves to leave his service, Bertie departs for the country to practice in peace. He gets caught up in the affairs of his good friend “Chuffy”, current employer of Jeeves, and manages to accidentally get himself engaged to the woman “Chuffy” loves. Madcap hijinks ensue, leaving Bertie to fend for himself without the stalwart advice of his gentleman’s gentleman.
This is the second Wodehouse book I’ve read and the first full-length novel. I had high expectations and to my disappointment found that it didn’t measure up to ”The Inimitable Jeeves”. I don’t know whether it was the fact it was written more than ten years later or that it was a full length story rather than many short stories but I actually found myself getting bored with the story. It wasn’t bad per se, it just wasn’t very good. There were long stretches where I thought the diction and dialogue could have used punching up and the whimsy that I had so enjoyed before was missing. There were several things I found off-putting, not least of which was the continued reference to blackface and racist terms that not only severely date the book but also leave a sour taste after I’d finished the book.
That’s not to say there weren’t enjoyable parts in the book. There were some great lines Bertie spouted off at random, echoing Wodehouse’s genius.
”He uttered a coarse expression which I wouldn't have thought he would have known. It just shows that you can bury yourself in the country and still somehow acquire a vocabulary. No doubt one picks up things from the neighbours -- the vicar, the local doctor, the man who brings the milk, and so on.”
"I hadn't heard the door open, but the man was on the spot once more. My private belief, as I think I have mentioned before, is that Jeeves doesn't have to open doors. He's like one of those birds in India who bung their astral bodies about--the chaps, I mean, who having gone into thin air in Bombay, reassemble the parts and appear two minutes later in Calcutta. Only some such theory will account for the fact that he's not there one moment and is there the next. He just seems to float from Spot A to Spot B like some form of gas.”
I think the main complaint and problem is the Jeeves-Wooster balance is missing. The best part of these books is the back and forth between Bertie and his valet. Usually Bertie’s done something foolish and Jeeves must reel him in to point out the error of his ways. For a large part of this book the two are separated. Granted Bertie sneaks over to ask Jeeves’ opinion on occasion but Bertie is mostly left to fend for himself, therefore creating a very bland story. It’s fries without ketchup, cake without icing, toast without jam, etc. The two of them work best together. I also found the fact that the entire plot hinged on the banjolele being a hated instrument very annoying. Surely there was another way to get Bertie out to the country without ditching Jeeves. Perhaps they could have disagreed with something after reaching the cottage?
Ultimately I think I was spoiled by "The Inimitable Jeeves" which I previously reviewed. It was just better overall so if you are looking to read a Jeeves & Wooster book I would suggest that one.