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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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"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 :
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"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'.
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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.

5 comments:

Amber said...

If the book is half as entertaining as your review, I suspect it is a good read.

Somehow reminds me of my favorite PBS Mystery series - Hercules Poirot.

hamilcar barca said...

i suspect the library may be the best place to find Wodehouse books. Borders didn't have any, and i was lucky to find two Jeeves books at the used bookstore. i doubt any more will show up there though.

i haven't gone to the library since Jason was in junior high. maybe it's time to renew my card.

Amanda said...

I love the library. I get most of my books there.

Serena said...

This must be the butler my English teacher in high school was referring to when he read my first novel with a butler named Jeeves. LOL He advised me to change the butler's name.

hamilcar barca said...

Amanda, I really need to get back in the habit of going to the library. it's no farther away than the used bookstore is, and Borders is even further away. i think my phobia has to do with them putting in an automated checker-outer. i have no idea how to use that.

Serena, now i'm curious. was your novel a comedy, and what name did you use to replace Jeeves?