Saturday, October 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #293: Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse

It takes a certain panache to start a story like this: "Two Eggs and a couple of Beans were having a leisurely spot in the smoking-room of the Drones Club, when a Crumpet came in and asked if anyone present wanted to buy a practically new copy of Tennyson's poems." And some readers -- I find them most common in the SF world, where they've been trained to take every word literally and make logical inferences from those literal meanings -- will trip badly over frivolous metaphors like that and grumpily retire immediately.

But for those who enjoy frivolous metaphors, and frivolity in all of its many manifestations, P.G. Wodehouse is the undisputed master. And the story that begins that way, "Trouble Down in  Tudsleigh," is right in the middle of a string of similar gems in the master's 1936 book of loosely related stories, Young Men in Spats.

Most of the eleven stories here are told by and about various members of the Drones Club, concerning their love troubles. Most prominent among that cast of young idiots are Freddie Widgeon and Reginald "Pongo" Twistleton-Twistleton -- though the Drones also includes young gentlemen named things like Barmy and Stiffy. The last three stories are from a different but similar series of Wodehouse stories, in which Mr. Mulliner tells the assembled drinkers of the Angler's Rest about the love travails of some of his many nephews, which are very much the same sort of thing.

To illustrate the level of frivolity, consider the cover story, "The Amazing Hat Mystery." Percy Wimbolt and Nelson Cork both got new top hats from Bodmin's, who as all well know axiomatically provide a perfect fit. They accidentally receive the other's hat, each break up with their respective girlfriends over those ill-fitting hats, exchange hats again unknowingly, and each take up with the other's ex, clearing the way for joy and nuptials all around.

This is obviously quite silly, and Wodehouse knows it. That's the whole point of Wodehouse: his world is a sunny, unreal one buoyed by his musical language and perfectly constructed artificial plots. His best story collections, of which this is one, show him working through variations on a basic plot -- in this case: young man is in love, encounters difficulties, comes out the other end -- with enthusiasm and verve.

Wodehouse is the premier writer to read when the world is too real and too unpleasant, one who will always be there to usher us into a land where young men are always dull but true, young women always beautiful and burdened by unpleasant relatives, and troubles are only there to be overcome.

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