Some novels I have read in the past seem to try to contrive a plot around an already worked out ending, or just use characters with a few witty one liners or running jokes, these books seem shallow after a jaunt with Jeeves And Wooster.
Wodehouse though achieves the perfect balance with all of the above tactics and adds his own inimitable writing style to the fray, which moves from clever plotting to over the top, energetic, whimsical hilarity.
The novels centre around Bertie Wooster a dim, monied, upper class chap who spends most of his time either falling in love, avoiding marriage or getting involved in mishaps, misunderstanding and down right farcical situations.
His ever faithful valet Jeeves is a man of the utmost discretion with a love of the philosopher Spinoza and a general mastery of a wide range of subjects, not to mention a subtlety with which he is able to discreetly maneuver people around to his way of thinking. He also has a critical eye for fashion.
Wodehouse’s plots are a finely balanced tapestry of goings on, never complicated but with enough plates spinning to keep the reader interested in the machinations of the characters. Each plot is almost an intermingling subplot within the structure of the book, often when a mini plotline seems to have come to its amusing conclusion it is brought back later on for a further humourous effect.
The slow build up and the variety of goings on, help throw the characters into disarray as they sort out their at odds problems, whilst the ever helpful Bertie attempts to help in a well-meaning and decent way but usually ends up at cross purposes with everyone before turning to Jeeves for help. Interestingly even though this formula is employed in most of the 16 books, it is telling that it never becomes old or dull, rather the amusement of watching Bertie plunge down varying paths with the inexorable feeling that Jeeves will be needed is all part of the lure.
The nature of the books being what they are, the characters voices are central, being that the only action you may get in a book, is someone being pushed into a river, or betting on an egg-and-spoon race, arguably the strongest part of the authors talents lie in the way the characters talk, you get the idea that it is all perfectly natural, whether it’s the excitable Wooster or the laid back Jeeves or any of the rest of the cast, everything is believable even if there is the vague whiff of the unconventional about it.
Bertie’s internal monologue is the voice that accompanies us through the books, his affable and always upbeat nature make it a joy to watch things spiral so quickly out of control and make his madcap schemes to save the day more involving and however improbable, almost always plausible, you can’t help rooting for him. Of course anyone who use the exclamation “Lor’ love a duck!” is a hero in my eyes.
Recurring jokes are always used subtly and with aplomb, they are never in your face and are more often than not made reference to conversationally so you greet their mention like old friends and not something repetitive and dull after a while.
There are so many one liners as well, but never as a signature sound bite to delight a reader, rather they flow through conversation and sometimes even the mundane lines can be made funny by the way the character says his or her piece, Wodehouse was a master of this, and not unlike Jerome K. Jerome whose Three Men in a Boat is another comedy classic.
For a spot of gentle comedy you can’t go far wrong with these books, whether in America or loafing around the countryside of England, with its manor houses, eccentrics and animal with quirky personalities, the duo of Jeeves and Wooster are classics of comedy and well worth a read.
For those of you of a curious nature, if you haven’t seen Hugh Laurie in his pre Gregory House days, the old ITV series is probably available on this internet, featuring Hugh Laurie as buffoonish Wooster and failing that, I implore you to enjoy Blackadder as well. British comedy at its finest…and then some.