Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Compliment to P.G. Wodehouse

"Jeeves and the Wedding Bells" by Sebastian Faulks


Who hasn't heard of Jeeves and Wooster - that charmingly bungling gentleman and his inimitable gentleman's gentleman? Who can forget the antics that Bertie Wooster falls into and the ingenious ways that Jeeves is able to manipulate him back to safety? And if you haven't read the books, you might have caught one of the television adaptations staring Hugh Lurie as Wooster and Steven Fry as Jeeves. But in case you are not familiar with this these two, they are the archetype for early 20th century high British comedy written by P.G. Wodehouse.

That the Wodehouse estate asked Sebastian Faulks to write a new Jeeves and Wooster novel may come as somewhat of a surprise to many. This is mainly because Faulks is best known for his historical dramatic works set in France. That background was far more suitable for Faulks taking on Ian Fleming and writing a James Bond novel a few years ago. But as much as I'm a huge fan of 007 movies, the books were never my thing. So despite his being ultimately appropriate for the job, Faulks's attempt at writing Bond left me cold, and I never got beyond the first chapters.

This is why, while the prospect of reading a book based on these two lovable characters was enticing, I approached it with some trepidation. Now let's face it, famous and beloved authors are famous and beloved for a good reason. And although it is said that imitation is the highest form of compliment, it still isn't the original no matter how much it wishes it could be. What's more, sequels by anyone other than the original author are, more likely than not, going to fail. For instance, I was less than enamored with P.D. James's ability to write a murder mystery to follow Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. So why ask a dramatic author to take on writing about a buffoon and his snooty man-servant?
 
With that type of an introduction, you're probably assuming that the bar has been set pretty low. However, I am an eternal optimist and fully believe that when someone accepts a challenge, they are probably well up to meeting it head on with an eye towards success. Thankfully, Faulks must have been reading my mind, because despite his fleeting worry that some readers would find the work had fallen "lamentably short of the mark," I will not be among them. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every page of this novel.

Of course, I'm not an expert on Wodehouse, having only grown to love this duo through the Fry and Lurie television adaptations. So what I was looking for was to hear their voices and see their faces while I read this story. And that's exactly what I got. Together with this, we are given a slightly absurd (but not unbelievable) plot that puts Jeeves upstairs impersonating a Lord with Wooster having to rough it downstairs as his servant. This is all so they can help one of Bertie's friends to regain the heart of his lady-love, while we watch Bertie fall in love as well.

I have to admit that I was at a small disadvantage here since I neither grew up in England, nor have I ever read the original books. Because of this, there were some passages that confused me with references that I just didn't get. Even so, I found the story compelling enough, with just the right amount of humorous goings on to keep me giggling. The best parts of the whole thing were the conversations between Jeeves and Wooster, which totally sparkled.

By the way, in the introduction to this book, Faulks mentions that he intended this book to be a type of introduction to this famous and beloved author for a new generation. If that was his main goal, I think he reached it extremely well, since now I'd like to read some of Wodehouse's real works (although I'd hardly call myself a member of the "new generation"). So even if Wodehouse purists find this lacking, I still have to recommend it and I'll give it a healthy and hearty "what ho" four out of five stars.




"Jeeves and the Wedding Bells" by Sebastian Faulks published in the US St. Martin's Press and in the UK by Hutchinson, a division of Random House UK/Cornerstone Publishing, and released on November 5, 2013 is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.