Saturday, October 21, 2006

Book-A-Day #96 (10/20): Do Butlers Burgle Banks? by P.G. Wodehouse

Like most creative folks, Wodehouse didn't start off at his peak; he had to work his way in, and develop his inimitable style as he went along. And, like any creative types who have the good luck to live a long and productive life, he also fell off a bit towards the end of his life.

Luckily, his books were already light and frivolous to begin with, and he never tampered with his essential style -- so his late books might not be as wonderful as his high period (which I'd say is mostly the '30s and '40s), but they're, at worst, just thinner and sillier variations on the essential Wodehouse themes. (And not embarrassments, as so many late books by literary giants are.)

Do Butlers Burgle Banks? was originally published in 1968, near the end of Wodehouse's long life. (He was born in 1881 and died in 1975.) It has an ending that feels like a hard wordcount has just been hit, and so the story must end right there; the younger Wodehouse would have added an additional complication or three, popped out another ten thousand words or so, and wrapped things up more gracefully. But that's really the only thing "wrong" with this book; it's of a piece with Wodehouse's other adult work -- silly and frivolous, but fun. It doesn't try to be "up to date" for 1968, and so it lands firmly in Wodehouse-land, that timeless England that's one part Edwardian, one part Roaring '20s, and three parts Wodehouse meringue.

I wouldn't start reading Wodehouse here -- he wrote at least two dozen novels in a similar vein that are better than this one, as well as a tall stack of short stories -- but it's a nice piece of Wodehouse for those of us who are already fifty or so books in, and hoping that the vein will continue to yield gold. It does.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!
Edited 1/2/07: the huge list of links was getting annoying, and screwing up my Book-A-Day searches, so I've killed them in these posts that had them.

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