Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jeeves Every Day

Jeeves in the Offing, by P.G. Wodehouse, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1960, Reprinted 2002 by Overlook Hardcover

You may ask yourself, is there any point in reviewing a Wodehouse novel? Or rather, you may ask this of me. I am, as has been established previously, completely and totally smitten with every word that drops from the pen of P.G. Wodehouse. And no novels or short stories so delight me of his as the classic Jeeves and Wooster brand.

I may as well review sunshine, cool, clean water, the smiles of beautiful children, fuzzy puppies, and all other manner of things that are perfection themselves. When the dark clouds have gathered on many a friend's brow, my advice has been steadfast and true: get yourself some Wodehouse and escape into sheer bliss.

How many of these friends take my advice I can't say for certain, but it remains solid. In the years prior to my discovery of these delightful books, I used Tom Robbins in a similar fashion. The problem is that Robbins writes so rarely that depending on your bad days mileage, you're very quickly through the entirety of the canon and back to rereading his novels. With Wodehouse, you have plenty to choose from -- there only being one drawback that may irk some. Wodehouse recycled his plots with a vengeance.

Were you to describe to someone the novel as such, you might describe any number of them: "Bertie Wooster is summoned to his Aunt Dahlia's home Brinkely Court to assist her in some project. In the course of this adventure, he inadvertently finds himself engaged to a girl, breaking up the engagement of someone else, being considered a crackpot by the locals, making an ass out of himself, botching events up completely, then finally resorting to the ingenious advice of his valet, Jeeves, who saves the day for all parties."

Because that is more or less the outline. Maybe it doesn't take place at Brinkley Court, maybe Bertie is assisting his other aunt, maybe a few other variations on a theme, but one way or another Bertie Wooster will make a hash of things and Jeeves will provide the solutions.

In this particular volume, Jeeves in the Offing, Jeeves is away on a vacation, which only provides Bertie more scope and license, though there is actually little even Bertie can do to upend this particular story. Events are already well out of hand before he even comes on the scene to apply his brand of brainpower. After breakfasting with an old school chum, Reginald Herring (nicknamed, obviously, Kipper) he opens the paper to find an announcement that Roberta Wickham is engaged to one Bertram Wooster.

News to him, he legs it to Brinkley Court where he discovers that Roberta, or Bobbie, is actually secretly engaged to Kipper, but has announced her engagement to Bertie in order to soften up her mother. The idea being that after envisioning the horrors of Bertie Wooster for a son, Lady Wickham will welcome Kipper with open arms. Meanwhile, Bertie is also set upon the task of preventing guest Willie Cream from making his advances to another guest Phyllis, locating a missing eighteenth century silver cow creamer dish, and preventing Kipper and his newspaper employer from being sued for libel by Bertie and Kipper's old school headmaster. Naturally, it all goes to pot, Jeeves is summoned from his vacation, and everything ends pleasantly. Yet again.

The lovely thing about these books is the madcap plotting is actually astonishingly complex. There are never any less than three separate plots going simultaneously and each attempt prior to the wise ministrations of Jeeves only complicates matters all the more.

But the true joy isn't so much the plotting and the incidents, which it must be said, are beyond choice. No, the true joy these books brings comes in how all of that delirious cloak and dagger, mistaken identity, love lost and regained stuff is all wrapped up in prose that just cooks.

As a sampling of this first rate stuff, I reproduce below, random Wodehouse quotes from stories and novels not merely from the book in question. It's all good, and you're missing out if you continue to let another day, another hour, go by without plunking yourself down with a tidy little volume such as these choice Overlook reissues.

  • Boko Bagshott we called him. Took a girl to supper once at the Gardenia. Supper scarcely concluded when an angry old gentleman plunges into the room and starts shaking his fist in Boko's face. Boko rises with chivalrous gesture. ``Have no fear, sir. I am a man of honour. I will marry your daughter.'' ``Daughter?'' says the old gentleman, foaming a little at the mouth. ``Damn it, that's my wife.'' Took all Boko's tact to pass it off, I believe.
  • Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror.
  • Jeeves coughed one soft, low, gentle cough like a sheep with a blade of grass stuck in its throat.
  • "If I've tried once to remember that tobacconist girl's name, I've tried a hundred times. I have an idea it began with an `L'. Muriel or Hilda or something.''
  • He had the look of a frustrated tiger whose personal physician had recommended a strict vegetarian diet....
  • The least thing upset him on the links. He missed short putts because of the uproar of the butterflies in the adjoining meadows.
  • Her voice trailed away in a sigh that was like the wind blowing through the cracks in a broken heart.
  • The Duke of Dunstable had one-way pockets. He would walk ten miles in the snow to chisel an orphan out of tuppence.
  • The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G. K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.
  • She was feeling like a mother who, in addition to notifying him that there is no candy, has been compelled to strike a loved child on the base of the skull with a stocking full of sand.

And so on. Every book is crammed with gems along the way. Take my advice, friends, if the world gets you down. The solution is any one of nearly one hundred novels, or perhaps the greatest short story of all time "Uncle Fred Flits By." You won't regret it.

1 comment:

.the tomato with double knobs on. said...

here here!

"Her voice trailed away in a sigh that was like the wind blowing through the cracks in a broken heart."

....kick ass.