Thursday, April 08, 2021

Money for Nothing by P.G. Wodehouse

I regret to inform my readers that P.G. Wodehouse's novel Money for Nothing does not also provide, as all of my generation would expect, "chicks for free." This is largely due to its having been published in 1928.

It is also devoid entirely of color TVs, microwave ovens, and Hawaiian noises. It does feature some characters who "ain't dumb" and have various schemes to obtain what Wodehouse was often wont to call "great wodges of the green stuff" without needing to get more than maybe a blister on their little fingers.

I trust this disappointment will not be too much of a shock.

Money for Nothing is a standalone Wodehouse book, set mostly in and around stately Rudge Hall, jewel of Rudge-in-the-Vale, "in that pleasant section of rural England where the grey stone of Gloucestershire gives place to Worcestershire's old red brick." It features two men of the older generation who have fallen into a tiff due to a trifling disagreement about who pushed who in front of a minor explosion one day, two different strapping nephews of the local squire, the local girl one of them hopes to wed, a can't-miss investment opportunity in London in the form of a retail establishment, and, inevitably, assorted American confidence-artists who are seeking the title payoff. Several of the confidence-artists, devotees of Wodehouse will be happy to learn, are acting as impostors while visiting a country-house during the course of this novel.

As usual with Wodehouse, the plot leaps and canters and races about once he's established his characters and locations -- I should also mention the Healthward Ho facility nearby, run by one of those Americans, a man pretending to be a doctor and known to his confederates as Chimp Twist -- as Wodehouse throws in complications from his usual bag of tricks and stirs until it all fizzes up.

I'm not going to describe all of those complications: with Wodehouse, doing so is either superfluous or silly. Or perhaps both. The point is how he maneuvers his characters through his situations -- both sets from his robust stock company -- in this particular permutation, making the reader smile often, laugh occasionally, and enjoy throughout. Wodehouse's world is entirely artificial; that's the point. Money for Nothing is a sunny concoction, from his prime interwar period, and may be lesser-known to most of his readers, since it isn't part of a series. But it's as much fun as Summer Lighting, which he wrote next, and would be a treat for any Wodehouse-lover who hasn't gotten to it yet.

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