Friday, November 28, 2008

The Return of Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse

1953; 176 pages. Later renamed "Ring For Jeeves". Genre : British, light humour. Overall Rating : B.
P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) was a prolific British writer, best-known for his "Jeeves" series. Jeeves is a butler, somewhat in the style of "Benson", if you remember that TV show. Wodehouse is known for his satirical wit, and his stories usually have gobs of threads going on, which somehow all get resolved by the end of the book.
In The Return of Jeeves, the 9th earl of Towcester (pronounced 'Toaster') has fallen upon hard times, having money only for a few servants, one of which is Jeeves. He's trying to sell the family mansion, and is moonlighting as a bookie. Alas, the bookmaking falls victim to someone winning on long odds, forcing the earl to welsh on his paying-off. He flees to the mansion, where an ex-flame shows up to buy the estate. So does the irate bettor, who is secretly in love with the ex, which ticks off the earl's current betrothed, whose father wants to horsewhip the earl, but finds he has to borrow the earl's horsewhip to do so. Meanwhile, the earl's sister and brother-in-law show up; the latter of which has the marvelous talent of saying the worst thing at the worst time. Confused? Don't be. It's all quite easy to follow in the book.
What's To Like...
The humor is great yet somewhat subtle. Jeeves is wont to quote Shakespeare and other classical authors. The threads described above just keep getting more tangled, and it is a marvel to see how they all get tied up in the last couple chapters.
There's only about 4 settings in the book, which would make this ideal to stage as a play. The story is mostly wordplay, so this isn't a book to read if you're a-thirsting for action-packed thrills.
"England and America are two countries, separated by the same language." {George Bernard Shaw}
One of the real joys of reading The Return of Jeeves is that it's written in "British", not American. There were a slew of words and phrases that just aren't used on this side of the pond. Some examples :
"bally", as in 'a bally palace if I ever saw one'.
"brass up", as in 'you mean he can't brass up?'.
"S.P.", as in 'the chaps have a big S.P. job on for the Derby'.
"scrag", as in 'Set on him, you mean? Scrag him?'.
"napper", as in 'swat Mrs. Spottsworth on the napper with a blackjack?'.
"by Clarkson", as in 'a vague, unidentified figure in a moustache by Clarkson'.
P.G. Wodehouse was despised by the British "upper crust" because he portayed them as bumbling boobs. But authors like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have acknowledged his influence on their writing style. So if Discworld or HHGTTG are your kind of humor, and you find the King's English a bally fine thing, you might give Jeeves a try.

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