P.G. Wodehouse,
The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England
(Alston Rivers, 1909; SMK, 2009)

In the farcical tone and generally silly nature of The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England, I can hear echoes of Terry Pratchett, Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson and Douglas Adams, among other notable luminaries of British humor. I would certainly not be surprised if the comic writers mentioned above listed P.G. Wodehouse, the author of The Swoop!, as a major influence on their style.

I hope then that they will not take offense if I say that The Swoop is not among Wodehouse's better works.

Even if it is damn funny.

In this early Wodehouse work, first published in 1909, nine nations invade England simultaneously, but separately, with the Germans and Russians foremost among them. England, where the army has been disbanded for being unsocial, is unprepared for the invasion, although its citizens are largely more bothered than actually threatened by the attack. For a while, at least, they find the whole thing rather entertaining -- so much so that two leading officers of the German and Russian armies are offered slots in a pair of London musical reviews. Eventually, however, their carefree attitude begins to erode.

The first novelty and excitement of the foreign occupation of the country was beginning to wear off, and in its place the sturdy independence so typical of the British character was reasserting itself. Deep down in his heart the genuine Englishman has a rugged distaste for seeing his country invaded by a foreign army. People were asking themselves by what right these aliens had overrun British soil.

An ever-growing feeling of annoyance had begun to lay hold of the nation.

Fortunately for England, Clarence Chugwater has the Boy Scouts well in hand for just such a contingency, and he soon devises the means for sending the invaders home. It's funny, in a very silly way, but this isn't Wodehouse that will stick with you for long. Fortunately for the reader, it's a very short novel. Read it, chuckle a bit, then move on to his better stuff.

book review by
Tom Knapp

23 April 2011

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