Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, 1960

The world of P.G. Wodehouse is really as different from our own--and as convincing--as Middle-earth or Philip Pullman's multiverse. It's a world where nothing bad every really happens, a world full of humor and joy.

The Jeeves and Wooster series has never failed to enchant me and How Right You Are, Jeeves is a delightful, hilarious entry into the canon.

When Jeeves leaves Bertie Wooster's side for his annual holiday, Wooster retires to his Aunt Dahlia's country house for what he thinks will be a relaxing visit. Since this is a Wodehouse novel, the house is a hotbed of trouble for the hapless Bertie. Among the fellow guests are Bobbie Wickham (a mischievous former flame of Bertie's), a New York playboy, a nosy mystery author, a psychologist disguised as a butler and the former headmaster of Bertie's grammar school, his boyhood nemesis.

Within hours of his arrival, Bertie finds himself trapped in a labyrinthine maze of drowning dachshunds, false engagements, missing cow-creamers, mistaken identity and Market Snodsbury's upcoming grammar school prize-giving. Only one man is brainy enough to get Bertie out of the soup: Jeeves.

The plot is exactly what we've come to expect from a Jeeves and Bertie story and that's a good thing. Wodehouse's devices may repeat themselves a bit, but the ridiculous intricacies of the plots are gloriously fun to follow.

This novel makes the bold move of having Jeeves off-stage for much of the action, which allowed Bertie to really wreak some hilarious havoc during the novel's first half. There's no comic set piece as glorious as Gussie Fink-Nottle's grammar school prize-giving in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), but there wasn't a single page that didn't make me smile.

Another thing I love about this series is the many recurring characters and plotlines that are carried through the entire saga. In this novel, we see the beginning of a warm friendship between Roderick Glossop and Bertie, formerly enemies, and we see strained relations between Bobbie Wickham and Bertie, formerly head over heels for each other. These touches of continuity are simply delightful for the familiar reader.

Wodehouse is an extraordinary wordsmith with a staggering proficiency in comic timing and convincing, yet hilarious dialogue. In this passage, Bertie has a telephone conversation with the intimidating Aubrey Upjohn, who he's supposed to be blackmailing:

"Oh, Jeeves is the man's name?"

"Yes, Mr. Upjohn."

"Well, he carelessly omitted to pack the notes for my speech at Market Snodsbury Grammar School tomorrow."

"No, really! I don't wonder you're sore."

"Saw whom?"

"Sore with an r."


"No, sorry, I mean with an o-r-e."


"Yes, Mr. Upjohn?"

"Are you intoxicated?"

"No, Mr. Upjohn."

"Then you are driveling. Stop driveling, Wooster."

"Yes, Mr. Upjohn."
---(page 133)

There's no question: Wodehouse is an incredible master of language, which he uses to create humor and joy rather than complex works of important "literature."

That, when you boil it down, is the essence of the Jeeves and Wooster saga: Joy. It's as much fun as anyone is likely to have reading, yet as you read, you can only marvel at Wodehouse's technical skill, that he uses in such a wonderful way. How Right You Are, Jeeves is a shining example of a Jeeves novel, and a shining example of English comic writing at its best.

NEXT UP: Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin

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