Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks (2013)

Being a long-time P. G. Wodehouse fan (I've read all the books, I mean ALL -- even The Globe By-the-Way Book and William Tell Told Again), I really wanted to like this book.  And, in a way, I did.  But...

The book is touted as "an homage to P.G. Wodehouse" and I have no doubt the author tried.  There are many clever lines.  The book at times comes close to Wodehouse's meticulous and seemingly easy plotting.  Many of Wodehouse's characters are mentioned in passing.  As a homage, though, it fails miserably.

Peregrine "Woody" Beeching comes calling at Bertie Wooster's home to seek the advice of Jeeves, manservant and problem-solver extraordinaire.  Woody is in love with pretty Amelia Hackworth, but Amelia has broken off their engagement because of Woody's innocent flirtations with some local maidens.  Amelia's father, Sir Henry Hackworth, is in financial straights and may be forced to sell his estate, Melbury Hall, to a private school.  Sir Henry's ward, Georgiana Meadowes, may hold the key to Sir Henry's salvation by way of her engagement to travel writer Rupert Venables, who's family is rolling in it.  Georgiana, however, was also the girl Bertie had squired that summer while both were spending time on the Cote d'Azur.

Enough exposition.

Jeeves advises Woody to let time heal Amelia's anger and to avoid flirting with other girls.  He also suggested that Woody return to Melbury and to play on Sir Henry's cricket team during an important upcoming match, the theory being that such an avid sportswoman as Woody said Amelia is would not doubt be impressed by Woody's natural skill on the cricket field.

Shortly thereafter, Bertie receives news that his dreaded Aunt Agatha is coming for a visit while her home is undergoing repairs.  Worse yet, Aunt Agatha would be bringing the doubly detested young Thomas in tow.  Jeeves, ever ready to solve Bertie's problems, suggested that they vacate the home and leave it to Agatha, while Bertie and he get lodgings near Melbury Hall so that Bertie could help Woody win back the love of Amelia.  Right-ho.

The best laid plans and so forth.  While in town, Jeeves meets Woody on the street just as Sir Henry was coming along.  Woody panicked and, knowing the Sir Henry was snobbishly impressed by social standing, introduced Jeeves as Lord Etringham, a friend of his family.  Sir Henry immediately invited Jeeves Lord Etringham to the Hall.  And because Bertie's reputation is less than sterling, it fell on him to act as Lord Etringham's manservant Wilburforce.

A classic Wodehouse situation is thus set up and false identities are assumed in order that true love will triumph, with a number of bumps and misunderstandings along the way.

So what went wrong?  Well, first, Wodehouse's book are set in an unspecified past that is timeless.  Faulks sets this novel after World War I and makes the date obvious by the use of a few historical references.  And then, there's the cricket game that takes up an important chapter.  Wodehouse never wrote about a cricket game in any of his humorous novels in such detail, in part because there is little room for humor during a cricket match and in part because it would be too alien to his American audience.  (Wodehouse did go into detail with cricket matches in his schoolboy books, but that's a different animal altogether.)  And Jeeves is portrayed as fallible; he makes a mistake.  Not only that, but we are given some of Jeeves' background (!), as well as a detailed floor-by-floor description of the Drones Club.  And Bertie -- genial, dim-witted Bertie -- is portrayed as a sort of uber-Bertie; the jokes coming fast and furious, too much so.  Not every cast member from the Jeeves books is mentioned a lot of them are, each mentioned along with a plot point from previous books.  It's as if Faulks wants us to know he has done his homework.  And although true love wins out in the end and all problems are resolved, Faulks ends the book by putting Jeeves and Bertie in a distinctly unWodehousian situation.  Ptah!

In his author's note at the start of the book, Faulks admits that Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is not true Wodehouse.  He deliberately did not try to imitate Wodehouse, nor did he want to make the book a parody.  Thus this book is a homage, intended to give readers unfamiliar with Wodehouse a sense of what his Jeeves books sound like.  For those readers familiar with Wodehouse, Faulks has "tried to provide a nostalgic variation."  As a homage, alas, this book is weak tea.

Yet I enjoyed the book.  Sort of.  There were enough bits here and there that rang of Wodehouse, enough to please me.  The novel in toto, though, serves to remind us that there was only one Wodehouse and we shall never see his like again.

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