Jeeves and Wooster meet up with old chums and new char­ac­ters in a bravura homage to PG Wode­house

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction - Ian San­som

Ac­cord­ing to Eve­lyn Waugh, “Mr Wode­house’s idyl­lic world can never stale. He will con­tinue to re­lease fu­ture gen­er­a­tions from cap­tiv­ity that may be more irk­some than our own.” He has cer­tainly con­tin­ued to re­lease fu­ture gen­er­a­tions from the irk­some cap­tiv­ity of writ­ing as them­selves. Fol­low­ing in what he calls “the patent-leather foot­steps of the great­est hu­morist in the English lan­guage”, Ben Schott of the Schott’s Mis­cel­la­nies fame has writ­ten a homage to ev­ery­one’s favourite Wode­house cre­ations, Jeeves and Wooster. (He’s not the first: Se­bas­tian Faulks had a go in 2013, in Jeeves and the Wed­ding Bells .) The book, we are told, is “Au­tho­rised by the PG Wode­house Es­tate”, which is cer­tainly re­as­sur­ing – but is it any good? The stakes are high. Fond pas­tiche or par­ody? A novel or a nov­elty?

The chal­lenges are con­sid­er­able, for Wode­house was pos­sessed of what one might jus­ti­fi­ably de­scribe as a unique prose style – loose, al­lu­sive, zippy, zingy, packed full of slang and over­flow­ing with elab­o­rate metaphors and sim­i­les, not to men­tion end­less puns, word­play and wise­cracks. Ev­ery sen­tence is a per­for­mance. In 1949’s The Mat­ing Sea­son, for ex­am­ple, Rev Sid­ney Pir­bright, vicar of King’s Dev­er­ill and un­cle of “Catsmeat” Pot­ter-Pir­bright, is de­scribed as “a tall, droop­ing man, look­ing as if he had been stuffed in a hurry by an in­com­pe­tent taxi­der­mist”. The gen­eral ef­fect is of be­ing force-fed golden su­gar cubes.

Schott cer­tainly puts on a bravura per­for­mance, twirling and twin­kling with tremen­dous en­ergy. A typ­i­cal para­graph runs like this: by Ben Schott, Hutchin­son, £16.99

A thought struck me, the way they do when the fil­bert is whirling. Monty hailed from one of the finest fam­i­lies; he had an ac­cent fruity enough to spread on a muf­fin, and his fond­ness for dou­ble­breasted suit­ing meant he was rarely dressed in any­thing less than a full acre of tweed. I knew for a fact that the din­ner jacket in which he was cur­rently at­tired had been be­spo­ken on Sav­ile Row, no less, for I was with him at its be­speak­ing. Miscellany-style glos­sary at the end.) The un­likely plot – ev­ery Wode­house plot was an un­likely plot, and the more un­likely the bet­ter – con­cerns, as it must, the hap­less Ber­tie Wooster get­ting into the soup and his in­es­timable valet Jeeves get­ting him out of it.

The soup on this oc­ca­sion in­volves Wode­house’s fic­tional fas­cist group, the Black Shorts, which seeks to pro­mote “The Bri­tish way of life, the Bri­tish sense of fair play, the Bri­tish love of Bri­tish­ness”; a vile phi­lan­der­ing Tory called MP Gray­don Hogg; and the lis­som Iona MacAus­lan, the lat­est in the long line of Ber­tie’s un­suit­able love in­ter­ests. Jeeves and his club, the Junior Ganymede (whose mem­bers con­sist solely of but­lers, valets and gen­tle­men’s per­sonal gen­tle­men, blessed with unique ac­cess to the great draw­ingrooms, din­ing ta­bles and bed­rooms of Eng­land), play a cru­cial role in ex­pos­ing a con­spir­acy at the heart of the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment.

“I think the suc­cess of ev­ery novel,” Wode­house once re­marked, “de­pends on the high spots. The thing to do is to say to your­self, ‘Which are my big scenes?’ and then get ev­ery drop of juice out of them.” Schott duly squeezes the juice from his set pieces: an amus­ing ac­count of the an­tics of the Drones Club in the Athenaeum (“the Club of Last Re­sort”); a far­ci­cal coun­try house week­end in­volv­ing Ber­tie’s Aunt Dahlia test­ing her own ver­sion of Worces­ter­shire sauce on her un­sus­pect­ing guests; and half a dozen other scenes in the grand restau­rants and the­atres around Pic­cadilly and West­min­ster.

In Schott’s fab­u­lous re-cre­ation of Wode­house’s ver­sion of an Eng­land that never was, old chums min­gle with new char­ac­ters: Pongo Twistle­ton makes a wel­come ap­pear­ance; some­one called Mon­tague Mont­gomery is suf­fer­ing from both “moolah” and mat­ri­mony problems, which Ber­tie makes both bet­ter and worse; and good old Florence Craye, fa­mously “steeped to the gills in se­ri­ous pur­pose” in the orig­i­nal Wode­house, is still pos­sessed of both her good looks and “a mind like a steel trap”, and is busy premier­ing her new play, Flot­sam. Aunt Dahlia re­mains “not sim­ply a good egg, but an egg that, more of­ten than not, emerges from the fry­ing pan sunny-side up” and Made­line Bas­sett, as al­ways, is “as soupy as New Eng­land clam chow­der”.

As with Wode­house him­self, or like spend­ing a long evening in the com­pany of a scintillating con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist, things even­tu­ally be­gin to flag, but dis­cre­tion on this point, as Ber­tie would have it, is the bet­ter p. of v. Schott has hit the tar­get.

The chal­lenges of pas­tiche are con­sid­er­able, for in Wode­house’s zingy prose style, over­flow­ing with metaphors, ev­ery sen­tence is a per­for­mance

Jeeves and the King of Clubs

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.