I was home again mid-week–for ice this time. The nasty weather outside seemed the perfect excuse to curl up with a P.G. Wodehouse. I think these little Overlook editions are just darling. I found them at a Half-Price Books last year and have been keeping my eye out for others ever since. They would look so nice lined up on a shelf.
Though I’ve watched the TV show, I’ve never read any Jeeves and Wooster, or indeed any Wodehouse. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with a stand-alone novel, but it was definitely still entertaining.
Jimmy Crocker is an American playboy and ex-newspaper man who has taken London by storm, much to the dismay of his social-climbing stepmother. His latest escapade, a bar fight over table reservations, threatens her hopes of getting Jimmy’s father made a Lord. Mr. Crocker simply wants the titling over with so he can watch a baseball game again. Jimmy starts to feel a little bit of remorse for the results of his actions, and when he overhears a pretty girl in a restaurant denouncing his name it’s the final straw.
The best option, it seems, is to lie low for a while and try his fortunes with his unknown aunt and uncle in New York. Mrs. Pett, his step-mother’s sister, runs a modern-day salon for young up-and-comings. Her son Ogden is a spoiled, insufferable brat with a history of being kidnapped. Mr. Pett is a wealthy Wall Street businessman who can’t find any peace and quiet in his own home. The household is rounded out by his ward Ann Chester, a capable and confident young woman with flaming red hair and a personality to match.
Wodehouse barely lets us get all the characters straight before its time to hang on to our hats. Jimmy falls for Ann at first sight (and is not alone), but it turns out that for reasons of her own, Ann hates the very idea of Jimmy Crocker. Naturally the solution is for him to pose as someone else, especially given that the reputation of “Picadilly Jim’s” exploits would make getting a job difficult. He finds employment under the name Mr. Bayliss to be equally difficult, however. Because he bears such a resemblance to the infamous Jimmy Crocker, Ann suggests he pose as that gentleman to gain favor with Mr. and Mrs. Pett. Impersonating himself leads to a whole new can of worms–because he’s not the only resident in the house who isn’t who he seems.
This book is a riot of absurd happenings and coincidences, all piling up on each other. The humor is mostly in the plot, with some comedic phrasings as well. Overall it was highly entertaining. It does have romance, but in a very matter-of-fact way; Jimmy turns out to be more sentimental than Ann. It took me a while to figure out who she reminded me of until I finally recalled another Anne, the narrator of Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit. Both have a strong sense of adventure and a lack of any overtly feminine qualities. That’s not to say that either isn’t an enjoyable character!
Jimmy is also very enjoyable, and stays true to himself. Even though he regrets some of the consequences of his actions, and reigns them in, he remains flippant and a little lazy. I found this much more believable than any type of reform would be. Jimmy is also a discredit to my love affair of journalists, but since it was a temporary job more than a career I don’t really count him as a newspaper man.
I think of Jeeves and Wooster as so quintessentially British that I never realized Wodehouse himself eventually became an American citizen. The characters are definitely American in some indescribable way, especially Jimmy, Mr. Crocker, and Ann. Perhaps it’s the slang, or their attitude. I really can’t say for sure, especially as about 95% of my notion of what’s “British” comes from books and movies. And I admit I share Mr. Crocker’s love of baseball and confusion over cricket. I still have absolutely no idea how it’s played.
I did note that though the book was published in 1917, and several characters make a transatlantic voyage, there was almost no mention of the war going on. In fact, the newspapers seem to be solely devoted to society gossip. Even Willie Partridge’s explosive invention is talked about vaguely in terms of political implications. I forget sometimes that we were neutral up until that year, at least officially.
There will definitely be more Wodehouse in my future. I also want to go back and revisit the TV show, since I watched it as a child with my parents. It will be interesting to see Hugh Laurie now that I know him best as Dr. House!
This book is on the Guardian list for the “Comedy’ category. That’s my first so far this year. (Also, I am completely up to date with reviews. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution!)