07/04/2017

Jeeves Omnibus 2 (by PG Wodehouse)

I have very much liked everything I have read by PG Wodehouse, since my father introduced me to his writing when I was about twelve. My favourites, though, are those about the hapless upper class Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. Popularised in an excellent TV series, I still find myself returning to the books from time to time, and enjoying them again.

‘Jeeves Omnibus 2’ is a volume we acquired shortly after moving to Cyprus. I had acquired several Jeeves and Wooster books second-hand, but this edition contains three of them which were harder to find at the time. The three books are: ‘Right Ho, Jeeves’, ‘Joy in the Morning’, and ‘Carry On, Jeeves’.

The first of these takes place at Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia’s country home. As ever there are complex relationships and quite a few people, but I’ve read so many of the books now that they feel like old friends. In this story, Bertie’s good friend Gussie Fink-Nottle - the nerd with a passion for newts - has fallen in love with the fluffy Madeleine Bassett, a girl who thinks that stars are born when fairies cry.

At the same time, another of Bertie’s friends, Tuppy Glossop, has just broken up with Bertie’s cousin Angela, after an argument. So Bertie decides to solve the problem. Normally he would have asked Jeeves to be involved, but they are in the middle of a disagreement over the suitability of a white mess jacket for dining in…

All familiar stuff to those brought up on these stories, though perhaps bewildering to anyone unfamiliar with them. The humour is dry, and much of it is in the style of writing, something that cannot be transferred in full to television, no matter how good the adaptation. Naturally all works out well in the end, by convoluted methods.

‘Joy in the Morning’ mostly takes place in Steeple Bumpleigh, where Bertie’s least favourite aunt Agatha lives. This daunting lady doesn’t come into the story, but her second husband Percy does, as does his ward, whose nickname is Nobby. She is engaged to another of Bertie’s friends, Boko, but needs her guardian’s permission. This is extremely hard to come by. Percy’s daughter Florence, meanwhile is engaged to yet another friend….using the term loosely. Into the mix comes Florence’s young teenage brother Edwin, who is in the Boy Scouts and determined to do ‘acts of kindness’ every day, whether or not the recipient wants him to…

Essentially the plot is much the same: misunderstandings arise, Bertie tries to sort everything out and fails, Jeeves sails quietly into the picture and sorts everything out. The situations are different - there’s a fancy-dress ball in this one, and a house that burns down, among other subplots - and the enjoyment is in the writing.

The final book in this omnibus, ‘Carry On, Jeeves’, is a collection of short stories. I assume it was packaged together with the other two because most of them involve incidents which were referred to in passing in one of the others. We discover, for instance, just how Bertie managed to be giving a speech (of sorts) at a girls’ school, how his Aunt Dahlia acquired the gifted cook Anatole, and how Bertie came to write an article for his aunt’s magazine.

I wondered if I would get a bit tired of the Wodehouse style reading three books in a row, but it didn’t happen at all. They make excellent bedtime reading, taking me back to a society that no longer exists; that of the entitled few in the early part of the 20th century. The plots featuring Jeeves’ mind work are all clever, if tending towards the ridiculous at times, and the balance of the two very different men is excellent.

It’s not politically correct, of course. There’s rampant sexism, some racism, and a great deal of ageism. In context, I don’t have any problem with it, but it might offend some coming across Wodehouse for the first time.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes this kind of satire.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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