A witty and skil­ful imi­ta­tion of the inim­itable

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS REVIEWS - TOM MATHEWS

JEEVES AND THE KING OF CLUBS BEN SCHOTT Hutchin­son, 320pp, £16.99

It is a truth uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged that when the cre­ator of a fa­mous char­ac­ter or char­ac­ters hands in the din­ner pail, up pop other scribes ea­ger to cash in on se­quels fea­tur­ing said cre­ations. No sooner had the pen fallen from Ian Flem­ing’s nerve­less hand than Kings­ley Amis, John Gar­dener and Se­bas­tian Faulks be­gan re­hew­ing Bond from the liv­ing card­board. And in 2013 Faulks in­dulged in an­other bit of lit­er­ary res­ur­rec­tion­ism with Jeeves and the Wed­ding Bells , an ef­fort scor­ing nine out of 10 with my­self, and other fans I quizzed at the time.

Now Ben Schott of Mis­cel­lany fame has bunged his fe­dora in the ring with Jeeves and the King of Clubs: “Storm clouds loom over Europe. Trea­son is afoot in the high­est so­cial cir­cles. The very se­cu­rity of the na­tion is in peril. Jeeves, we dis­cover, has long been an agent of Bri­tish In­tel­li­gence, but now his Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment must turn to the one man who can help . . . Ber­tie Wooster.”

The plot, let it be said, is of an in­tri­cacy wor­thy of the master. The odi­ous R Spode, and his black shorts, get their come­up­pance. Ber­tie does a preux che­va­lier star-crossed lovers re­pair job and finds ro­mance with one Iona daugh­ter of spy­mas­ter Lord Mac Aus­lan. Old favourites Made­line Basset, Florence Craye, Percy Gor­ringe, and the fifth Baron Chuffnell make their ap­pear­ances as do var­i­ous “Drones­man” (a coinage I didn’t much care for). Ber­tie’s gar­ish dress slip­pers get on Jeeves’ op­tic nerves. So far, so for­mu­laic, though a sub­plot in­volv­ing Aunt Dahlia’s at­tempts to out Lea Per­rin by con­coct­ing Brink­ley sauce leaves a cu­ri­ous af­ter­taste.

Where Mr Schott falls down is in deal­ing with what Jeeves refers to as “The psy­chol­ogy of the in­di­vid­ual” or, as Ber­tie has it “what they’re like”. Wode­house one feels would not have Ber­tie say: “I stalked out of the bank in mid-dud­geon with the firm in­ten­tion of for­sak­ing Trol­lope’s for the more ac­com­mo­dat­ing em­brace of a Hoare.” Nor (Ber­tie is re­buk­ing an ac­quain­tance) “You may stick your three jobs Mon­tague where the mon­key hides the nuts. Tinkerty tonk.” Vul­gar­ity is not Ber­tie’s style.

Oc­ca­sion­ally close

On oc­ca­sion Schott gets it very nearly right: “To say that money was close to Un­cle Tom’s heart was to mis­ap­pre­hend how much the old chap val­ued blood. I have of­ten thought that a stage man­ager, strug­gling to pro­vide suit­ably dra­matic sound ef­fects for the eye-goug­ing scene in King Lear, need do noth­ing more than whisper ‘su­per­tax’ into Un­cle Tom’s lug­hole and stand well back.” His own ear should tell him that “Lug­hole” is not Ber­tie.

Nor, I think, is this Aunt Dahlia: “Re­ally Ber­tie I wish you wouldn’t quote Os­car Wilde. In case you haven’t no­ticed there’s a cler­gy­man present and the Rev­erend Prebendary David Miller does not take kindly to anti-scrip­tural in­nu­endo.” (Es­pe­cially as there hasn’t been any for him to take un­kindly to.)

Where Wode­house’s Jeeves’s dis­ser­ta­tions on cul­tured pearls or sil­ver­smith’s ter­mi­nol­ogy oc­cur nat­u­rally in con­text, Schott’s Jeeves seems as fond of gra­tu­itous trivia as Schott him­self. Here he is cor­rect­ing Ber­tie’s con­tention that the words clump and clank are in­ter­change­able: “clump is a sound made by non metal­lic ar­ti­cles, heavy boots per­haps, or box­ing gloves. Met­als clink, clank, or pe­ri­od­i­cally clunk.” In an­other hun­dred words he ex­pli­cates thud, ring, clang, tin­kle and chime.

This ven­tril­o­quism also af­fects Ber­tie who ex­plains to Iona that the ad­jec­tive for Aunts is “Matert­eral”. Pe­ri­od­i­cally clunk­ing too is Schott’s use of English. A long si­lence is “pro­tracted”. Long things tend to be . . . but I don’t sup­pose Wode­house, whom Bel­loc fa­mously called “The best liv­ing writer of English”, would have both­ered point­ing it out. But back to Ber­tie as trivia ex­pert. When he no­tices, for in­stance, that de­spite his Scot­tish ac­cent Lord Mac Aus­lan gives “the dis­taste­ful E in whiskey a dis­tinctly Dubli­nesque twang” he is not the Ber­tram we know.

Who is he then? Some­times Stephen Fry: “same again” I in­structed, “and one for m’col­league.” And then Terry-Thomas. Spode is an “ab­so­lute shower”. One would imag­ine a sce­nario fea­tur­ing Ber­tie tem­po­rar­ily in charge of Eu­lalie Soeurs, Spode’s lingerie out­let, would be im­pos­si­ble not to milk for laughs. But Schott man­ages it. The dif­fer­ence be­tween this well-mean­ing ho­mage and a real Jeeves novel is the same as that be­tween see­ing a cou­ple of nice old Amer­i­cans dress­ing up and pre­tend­ing to be Lau­rel and Hardy and watch­ing a screen­ing of The Mu­sic Box.

There are laughs and ad­mirable in­ge­nu­ity in Schott’s con­fec­tion. But laugh­ter is not joy nor ad­mi­ra­tion love. Matert­eral is a good ad­jec­tive. Wode­house has a good ad­jec­tive for his fa­mous gen­tle­man’s gen­tle­man too. He called him “The Inim­itable Jeeves.”

Stephen Man­gan Matthew Mac­fadyen as Jeeves and Wooster in Per­fect Non­sense

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.