Friday, October 30, 2009

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Every reader needs comfort: something to retreat to when things aren't going as planned, a calm oasis of perfection while the storm rages outside. For me, the books of P.G. Wodehouse perfectly fit that bill. Even better, he wrote over a hundred of them in his long life, so I'm still able to read new books when I need them.

And so I turned to The Inimitable Jeeves after Gail Carriger's Soulless, a nice novel that wasn't what I had thought it would be, an aborted reading of The Sheriff of Yrnameer, and some other things that weren't just as I wanted them to be.

Inimitable is from 1923, and was the first novel-length appearance of Jeeves (and his employer -- "master" would be entirely the wrong word -- Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, one of the idlest of the idle rich and dullest of the Drones), though it was actually a fix-up of eleven previously published stories. It's stop-and-start pacing betrays that origin, but Wodehouse has turned the stories into a continuous plot, so it all feels like one book, even if it isn't quite a novel.

As always, Bertie is dim and continually getting into scrapes -- the ones in this book mostly concern the lovelife of his friend Bingo Little, who keeps falling into love with unlikely females and calling for Bertie's help to win them. Bertie, of course, is very little help, but Jeeves's plots are cunning and true...though they're not always designed to do what Bingo or Bertie would like.

Inimitable is not quite top-drawer Wodehouse; it sees him still tuning the instrument of the Jeeves-Wooster stories, and organizing the elements that he would later turn into the most exquisite of farces. But "not quite as good as Wodehouse later got" is still vastly better than most modern humorists, and the world of Jeeves and Wooster is so timeless -- one part Gay Nineties, one part Roaring Twenties, one part pre-war gaiety, and several parts pure Wodehousian invention -- that it never feels dated.

And, as always, I have to give high praise to The Overlook Press, which has been publishing Wodehouse's books, four or six of them a year, in these wonderful small editions, for about a decade now. They make Wodehouse's work not just a joy to read, but a joy to have on the shelf.

3 comments:

kgbooklog said...

Are going to post a review of Soulless? It may be something I really like, or it could be exactly the sort of thing I don't like.

KatG said...

Wodehouse forever! And Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry to do them on the screen in their day.

Mike Schilling said...

Not much to add to what Andrew said, except to recommend The World of Jeeves, which collects all of the Jeeves short stories including these.

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