Bertie Wooster has spots on his chest and his doctor advises him to go down to the country for peace and quiet and fresh air and exercise. But at the cottage organised by his Aunt Dahlia he becomes embroiled in trying to fix a horse race by stealing a cat whilst simultaneously trying not to get married to an ex-fiancee who wants to improve him. In the end it takes his man Jeeves to sort out the mess.
Written as last as 1974 yet presumably set in that innocent inter-war period when it still mattered if you had been to Eton, this is classic Wodehouse. The joy is that it is written in the voice of Wooster, chivalrous but hapless man about town, who dilettantes about with foreign expressions and snatches of poetry but has never heard of Tolstoy. Time and again Wodehouse raises a chuckle by transforming the English language.
Cliches are renewed, often by the simple expedient of Wooster applying abbreviations, as when he explains how Porter "earned the daily b"; "so far ... so g".
He also renews cliches by simply replacing words so that 'I shuddered from head to toe' becomes "I shuddered from hair-do to shoe-sole".
He uses English history to illustrate concepts. When trying to make the point that red hair is associated with high blood pressure he says: "The first Queen Elizabeth had red hair, and look what she did to Mary Queen of Scots."
On the other hand he is sometimes hilariously ignorant. When asked if he has read 'Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son' he reflects "well, of course I hadn't. Bertam Wooster does not read other people's letters. If I were employed in the Post Office, I wouldn't even read the postcards."
He exaggerates images. A dour doctor has a face which resembles "a frog which has been looking on the dark side since it was a slip of a tadpole"; if Aunt Dahlia "ever turned into a werewolf, it would be one of those jolly breezy werewolves whom it is a pleasure to know." "He couldn't have been more emotional if he had been a big shot in the Foreign Office and I a heavily veiled woman diffusing a strange exotic scent whom he had caught getting away with the Naval Treaty"; "Talk of drawing his fangs. His dentist will have to fit him with a completely new set"; "Cook in his present frame of mind wouldn't recognise reason if you served it up to him in an individual plate with watercress round it".
He pretends not to know things. The blood pressure sphygmomanometer becomes "that rubber thing around my biceps"; "I wasn't a modern Casa something. Not Casabianca. That was the chap who stood on the burning deck. Casanova. I knew I'd get it.".
He interrupts the narrative to ask questions directly of the reader: "And with no further ado - or is it to-do? - I never can remember".
He can mix metaphors with aplomb: "What asses horses are"; "I am a good mixer who is always glad to shake hands with new faces".
He becomes literal with metaphor. ""She has been known to ask me if I have a home of my own and, if I have. why the hell I don't stay in it".
He is also literal with the English language: "there happened at the moment to be no passers-by but if any passers had been by ..."
These are just a few examples. The book is stuffed as full of these things as a goose whose liver is destined for foie gras. When you add in the elements of a classic farce and some utterly preposterous characters, Wodehouse is pure, escapist, comic gold.
August 2016; 184 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57