Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just Enough Jeeves

If you have never read anything by P.G. Wodehouse, this book is an excellent place to start. It contains two novels and a collection of short stories, all featuring Bertie Wooster and his omniscient manservant, Jeeves. The stories collected here span most of Wodehouse’s career, from among the first Jeeves stories to the last.

One drawback to reading an anthology like this is that it is much like watching a House marathon on television. The plotlines are all the same. In House’s case, the first 15 minutes are devoted to the setup, introducing the new patient, his/her misdiagnosis and the friends and family surrounding him/her. The next forty minutes see House and his team pursue various clues while making wildly wrong diagnoses until in the final ten minutes House has an epiphany and comes up with the correct diagnosis. The fun, of course, is in the byplay between the characters and like any good mystery, guessing which are the real clues and which are the red herrings.

Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories are much the same. Each story starts out with Bertie and his friends and relatives faced with a seemingly insurmountable personal situation, which after much drama is neatly solved by Jeeves. The fun in these stories is the dry, English humor and guessing what solution Jeeves will come up with. “Drama” is relative. Like Seinfeld, these stories are about “nothing”. Nothing important (to anyone but the rich, selfish characters) ever happens. No one ever dies or is seriously hurt. Yet to the characters in the stories, the situations in which they find themselves, are of vital importance. Only Jeeves can save them.

All the stories are told from Bertie’s point of view. We are never privileged to enter into Jeeves character or thinking other than to hear his explanations of the solutions he comes up with to solve the dilemmas of the idle rich. His simple but effective answers to their seemingly insurmountable problems, offers him an opportunity to comment on their ignorance without actually calling them morons. Bertie and his friends and family remain blissfully unaware that he is mocking them.

Review copy courtesy of W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

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