Book Review: Thank You, Jeeves

Time for another book review!

Now, I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I read ‘real people literature.’ Case in point, I just finished reading P.G. Wodehouse’s Thank You Jeeves. The arrow edition, to be precise, seen below.

See? No swords or spaceships or chainmail bikinis on the cover. I’m respectable!

Anyway, for those not in the know, P.G. Wodehouse is an English writer of some acclaim from the turn of the century. He was very prolific, writing a whole crapload of comic short stories and novels in the first half of the 20th century. Check out his Wikipedia page for further details.

The most famous of Wodehouse’s work are his “Jeeves & Wooster” series. They’re fun books, based around the titular pair- Bertram Wooster is your typical addle-brained upper-class English twit, and Jeeves is his faithful valet, who invariably gets him out of whatever ridiculous situations Wooster has blundered into. Even if you haven’t read the novels, you’ve probably bandied the name “Jeeves” about whenever a butler’s mentioned- this is where that term comes from. The books and stories have been adapted several times, including a “Jeeves and Wooster” series starring none other than Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I’ve included one of my favorite clips below, showcasing how Laurie & Fry added period music to the comedy, which just makes it funnier.

The best Wodehouse stories are wonderful to read; the plots are convoluted and labyrinthine (as a proper farce should be), while the writing is snappy and full of dry wit. This said, they also tend to blend together a little bit, in that Wodehouse uses a stable of stock characters (Upper-class twits, lovestruck ingenues, irate fathers, bratty children, terrifying aunts, and the occasional hyper-competent servant) who wind up blundering through various misunderstandings about marriages or what have you, and then everything’s wrapped up neatly at the end. Really, I’m kind of reminded of Agatha Christie, another English author of the same time period, in that both she and Wodehouse feature twisty plots- just with a different focus (and more corpses on Christie’s part).

In any case, that’s enough about talking about Wodehouse in general, let’s get down to Thank You Jeeves specifically. And, to be honest, when compared to some of the other Wodehouse I’ve read over the years, Thank You Jeeves feels like it’s not firing on all cylinders. The plot felt a little too “A-to-B,” in that a lot of the action consisted of “Wooster runs away from one problem, only to blunder into another problem. Hijinks ensue.” And again, this is all wonderfully written in the dry English style, but the book’s pace never built up to the sort of frantic climax that marks the best farces.

And on top of that? The book’s…a little bit racist. Thankfully, not in the “Black/Asian/Otherplacian people are terrible monsters who will steal our women and destroy the world!” sense (I’m looking at you, Lovecraft), but it still has a bit of the casual racism that pops up all the time in books of that era. In particular, a major plot point of the novel is Wooster disguising himself as a member of a minstrel troupe, complete with blackface, which he’s stuck in for the last half of the novel. Again, it’s not nearly as bad as it could be. Wooster never pretends to be anything but himself while painted up, so we’re spared from an English gentleman spouting minstrel-doggrel- but still, I felt the whole blackface thing kind of throws a pall over the silliness of the book, even if it wasn’t intended. Which in turn made me think “Oh, they couldn’t have filmed any of this…” but wikipedia says they did. Huh.

In any case, I heartily recommend any of you go read some P.G. Wodehouse if you’re looking for a laugh- I just wouldn’t recommend starting with Thank You, Jeeves. But hey, Wodehouse wrote over a hundred books over the course of his career, so they all can’t be brilliant, right?

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