P.G. Wodehouse,
Three Men & a Maid
(George H. Doran, 1922)
a.k.a. The Girl on the Boat
(Herbert Jenkins, 1922)

A beautiful young red-haired woman is wooed by three men. Much of the action takes place on a cruise ship traveling from New York to London. Now, at least, you know the basis for this short novel's two titles.

The three men in question are Bream Mortimer, Eustace Hignett and Hignett's cousin Sam Marlowe. The object of their affections is Wilhelmina "Billie" Bennett, a strong-willed girl with an eye for heroic men -- which none of these men are although, to be fair, one of them fits the mold a bit more than the others. Hignett also has a domineering mother who does her level best to prevent him from marrying, simply because she holds a darling country estate in trust for him and must hand it over as soon as he weds. Marlowe has a father who is not a very impressive lawyer.

And Mortimer is, well, a coward. And an odd-looking fellow, to boot.

He looked much more like a parrot than most parrots do. It gave strangers a momentary shock of surprise when they saw Bream Mortimer in restaurants eating roast beef. They had the feeling that he would have preferred sun-flower seeds.

The characters are purposely shallow and laughably entertaining. Wodehouse himself appears in the story as its chronicler; he narrates with a great many first-person asides to his readers -- a conceit that some readers will love, although I personally found intrusive. Still, the overall tone of the book is delightful, and I encourage folks to sample this frothy and entertaining example of Wodehouse's early work.

book review by
Tom Knapp

6 August 2011

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