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Friday, January 3, 2014

Reading List: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

Faulks, Sebastian. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. London: Hutchinson, 2013. ISBN 978-0-09-195404-8.
As a fan of P. G. Wodehouse ever since I started reading his work in the 1970s, and having read every single Jeeves and Wooster story, it was with some trepidation that I picked up this novel, the first Jeeves and Wooster story since Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, published in 1974, a year before Wodehouse's death. This book, published with the permission of the Wodehouse estate, is described by the author as a tribute to P. G. Wodehouse which he hopes will encourage readers to discover the work of the master.

The author notes that, while remaining true to the characters of Jeeves and Wooster and the ambience of the stories, he did not attempt to mimic Wodehouse's style. Notwithstanding, to this reader, the result is so close to that of Wodehouse that if you dropped it into a Wodehouse collection unlabelled, I suspect few readers would find anything discordant. Faulks's Jeeves seems to use more jaw-breaking words than I recall Wodehouse's, but that's about it. Apart from Jeeves and Wooster, none of the regular characters who populate Wodehouse's stories appear on stage here. We hear of members of the Drones, the terrifying Aunt Agatha, and others, and mentions of previous episodes involving them, but all of the other dramatis personæ are new.

On holiday in the south of France, Bertie Wooster makes the acquaintance of Georgiana Meadowes, a copy editor for a London publisher having escaped the metropolis to finish marking up a manuscript. Bertie is immediately smitten, being impressed by Georgiana's beauty, brains, and wit, albeit less so with her driving (“To say she drove in the French fashion would be to cast a slur on those fine people.”). Upon his return to London, Bertie soon reads that Georgiana has become engaged to a travel writer she mentioned her family urging her to marry. Meanwhile, one of Bertie's best friends, “Woody” Beeching, confides his own problem with the fairer sex. His fiancée has broken off the engagement because her parents, the Hackwoods, need their daughter to marry into wealth to save the family seat, at risk of being sold. Before long, Bertie discovers that the matrimonial plans of Georgiana and Woody are linked in a subtle but inflexible way, and that a delicate hand, acting with nuance, will be needed to assure all ends well.

Evidently, a job crying out for the attention of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster! Into the fray Jeeves and Wooster go, and before long a quintessentially Wodehousean series of impostures, misadventures, misdirections, eccentric characters, disasters at the dinner table, and carefully crafted stratagems gone horribly awry ensue. If you are not acquainted with that game which the English, not being a very spiritual people, invented to give them some idea of eternity (G. B. Shaw), you may want to review the rules before reading chapter 7.

Doubtless some Wodehouse fans will consider any author's bringing Jeeves and Wooster back to life a sacrilege, but this fan simply relished the opportunity to meet them again in a new adventure which is entirely consistent with the Wodehouse canon and characters. I would have been dismayed had this been a parody or some “transgressive” despoilation of the innocent world these characters inhabit. Instead we have a thoroughly enjoyable romp in which the prodigious brain of Jeeves once again saves the day.

The U.K. edition is linked above. U.S. and worldwide Kindle editions are available.

Posted at January 3, 2014 01:33