P.G. Wodehouse,
Right Ho, Jeeves
(Herbert Jenkins, 1934; CreateSpace, 2010)

After an initial collection of short stories, my first P.G. Wodehouse novel was Right Ho, Jeeves, a great comic yarn featuring a layabout English man of leisure, Bertie Wooster, and his steady gentleman's gentleman, Reginald Jeeves.

The crux of the novel is a series of misunderstandings, a situation at which Wodehouse is unparalleled in choreographing. One couple, very much in love, is sundered over angry words about a shark, while another couple, unable to get past that initial stage of shyness, utterly fails to come together. Add to that a slighted French chef, a jealous school chum, a large gambling debt and a spiked jug of orange juice, and you have a comedy farce of the first rate.

The thing is, most sensible people would call the various parties together, have an awkward but open conversation and set things right. But the noble English, alas, must never breach etiquette in even the slightest manner, and uncomfortable subjects are best left silent. This even goes to the extent that, for example, when a young lady perceives that Wooster has proposed to her, he must gallantly move forward with the engagement even though it was never his intent and, quite frankly, he doesn't much like the girl.

Misunderstandings, confusions and a bit of inebriated hijinks circle around each other like ballroom dancers, and Wodehouse demonstrates his utter mastery of the art with every page. He juggles plot twists like a pierrot, and the dialogue unfolds with a jaunty, refreshing air.

I don't want to wrong anybody, so I won't go so far as to say that she actually wrote poetry, but her conversation, to my mind, was of a nature calculated to excite the liveliest suspicions. Well, I mean to say, when a girl suddenly asks you out of a blue sky if you don't sometimes feel that the stars are God's daisy-chain, you begin to think a bit.

While it's the dialogue I admire most, I also am somewhat in awe at the intricacies with which Wodehouse weaves his plot together. Even such innocuous items as bars on the window, a cold steak-and-kidney pie and a Mephistopheles costume will play important roles before story's end. A prize assembly at a local grammar school, wherein presenter Gussie Fink-Nottle has had his first encounter with alcohol just prior to the event, is a classic scene of British literature.

book review by
Tom Knapp

12 February 2011

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