P.G. Wodehouse,
My Man Jeeves
(George Newnes, 1919; CreateSpace, 2010)

I got a Kindle for Christmas.

Sorry. This isn't meant to be a pitch for Amazon; frankly, I've never tried the Nook, iPad or other portable e-reader, so I have nothing to compare it to. But I do like the convenience and easy readability of the Kindle, as well as the large library of free books to choose from. For my first book, I chose an author I've long wanted to read: P.G. Wodehouse.

The collection, My Man Jeeves, includes several short stories from Wodehouse's popular Wooster & Jeeves series, as well as a handful of Reginald Pepper adventures. Both Wooster and Pepper are British men of leisure in the early 1900s; Pepper lives in London, while Wooster has migrated to Manhattan with his resourceful valet, Jeeves. (Pepper, who was featured in only seven Wodehouse tales, is generally considered a Wooster prototype.)

These stories -- eight in all, half dedicated to each protagonist -- are a delight. These are early Wodehouse, and several of the stories appeared in later collections, in some cases significantly rewritten. (At least one story, "Helping Freddie," would be entirely recast, dropping Pepper as the lead character and adding Wooster and Jeeves in his stead.)

The stories center primarily on shenanigans involving allowances from wealthy relatives and romances gone awry. Elaborate schemes are devised to solve the problems, and those schemes inevitably go wrong in some decisive way. Leave it to Jeeves (or, in Pepper's case, his own bumbling ingenuity or a stroke of good luck) to save the day.

Wodehouse uses language -- both British colloquialisms and early 20th century slang -- that might baffle some readers. For me, it adds to the charm.

One of the rummy things about Jeeves is that, unless you watch him like a hawk, you very seldom see him come into a room. He's like one of those weird chappies in India who dissolve themselves into thin air and nip through space in a sort of disembodied way and assemble the parts again just where they want them. I've got a cousin who's what they call a Theosophist, and he says he's often nearly worked the same thing himself, but couldn't quite bring it off, probably owing to having fed in his boyhood on the flesh of animals slain in anger and pie.

His way with words make reading these stories a complete pleasure. Take this example:

She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it has been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.

And this:

"I don't understand a word you say. You're English, aren't you?"

I admitted it. She didn't say a word. And somehow she did it in a way that made it worse than if she had spoken for hours. Somehow it was brought home to me that she didn't like Englishmen, and that if she had had to meet an Englishman, I was the one she'd have chosen last.

The humor is sly, rather than gut-busting, and I found myself smiling as I read. Wodehouse was a wordsmith from the days when words mattered as much as -- and possibly more than -- the plot.

The Kindle version has numerous linebreak errors in the text, but otherwise this was a truly satisfying introduction to Wodehouse and his famous creations. For my part, I'll be downloading more Wodehouse straightaway.

book review by
Tom Knapp

15 January 2011

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new