Friday, March 03, 2023

If I Were You by P.G. Wodehouse

Before I look, I will make a prediction: If I Were You was originally a play, before P.G. Wodehouse turned it into this 1931 novel. It is clearly broken into a three-act structure, taking place in two locations - the first returning for what I assume is Act Three - and has a smallish cast that comes in and out accompanied with what almost look like stage directions.

I'm not complaining, mind you: this is a quick, fun novel by a master. But the bones of a play are clearly evident within it.

<fx: sound of Googling>

Aha! I am correct - it was a play first, of the same name, by Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. That play was never produced, but later incarnations of the same idea did reach the stage, as I learned from the useful Wikipedia page.

But what is that story, you may ask?

It's a switched-at-birth tale: Anthony, the Fifth Earl of Droitwitch, was born in India and shipped home to be raised by a nurse, who had married into London's Price family of renowned barbers. It's now almost thirty years later, and the often-sozzled former nurse now occasionally claims that she switched Anthony for her son, now the rising Cockney barber Syd Price.

Anthony is the usual Wodehouse hero: strong and true and tall and manly and utterly incapable of any sort of deception or unsportsmanlike behavior. So of course he agrees immediately to switch places with Syd, and let his overbearing relatives mold the Londoner into a proper gentleman while he takes over the thriving barbershop.

There also are a couple of girls involved, of course - the American heiress who has just maneuvered Anthony into making a proposal, and a much better London girl who works in the barbershop.

Oh, and Anthony's younger brother - well, the younger brother of whichever one of them is actually the rightful Earl - has been actively trying to promote a hair-restorer invented by one of the Price ancestors, and this will circle the main plot and add some complications along the way, as well as helping to facilitate the eventual happy ending.

And, yes, of course there is a happy ending, with everyone rich and/or engaged to the right person and/or noble and/or entirely satisfied with their lots. It's a Wodehouse book; that's only to be expected.

This is a short Wodehouse novel - barely two hundred pages - and not generally listed among his best, but it's funny and entertaining and the staginess is not a detriment to it. (Or I didn't find it so: I can never tell what will annoy other people.) And Wodehouse was one of the greats, so not-quite-his-best is still pretty high praise.

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