Monday, November 4, 2013

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells: A Homage to P.G. Wodehouse by Sebastian Faulks

The blurb:
Bertie Wooster (a young man about town) and his butler Jeeves (the very model of the modern manservant) return in their first new novel in fifty years: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks.

P.G. Wodehouse documented the lives of the inimitable Jeeves and Wooster for nearly 60 years, from their first appearance in 1915 ("Extricating Young Gussie") to his final completed novel ("Aunts Aren't Gentlemen") in 1974.  These two were the finest creations of a novelist widely proclaimed to be the finest comic English writer by critics and fans alike.

With the approval of the Wodehouse estate, acclaimed novelist Sebastian Faulks brings Bertie and Jeeves back to life in a hilarious affair of mix-ups and mishaps.  Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgina Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to "help" his old friend Peregrine "Woody" Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. Almost immediately things start to go awry and the simple path quickly becomes complicated.  Jeeves ends up having to impersonate Lord Etringham, while Bertie plays the part of Jeeves' manservant "Wilberforce" - and all this happens under the same roof as the now affianced Ms. Meadowes.

I was raised in a family of staunch Wodehouse fans and have a deep affection for Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.  When I learned that a new Jeeves novel was coming out, authorized by the Wodehouse estate, I signed up to read it immediately.    I worried that it wouldn't have the same flavor as Wodehouse's earlier novels. 

In this new adventure, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, we have Sebastian Faulks' homage to the original.  We find the same level of absurd twists that characterize Bertie Wooster's adventures.  There is  the search for deep pockets to help bolster failing estates, references to old beloved characters such as Aunt Agatha and her tartars of friends as well as many of the women of Bertie's past and his fellow Drones men.  

Jeeves is called upon by Bertie's aristocratic friends to help them find a way out of their dilemmas.  Bertie gamely takes on all sorts of challenges and comes upon unexpected obstacles - all with good humor and all sorts of bad luck.  

I wish I could say that Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was just like coming across a hidden Wodehouse manuscript.  There were all sorts of obscure British expressions that while similar to Wodehouse's turns of phrase somehow didn't have the same humor or clarity. It may be that I'm sufficiently well versed in British witticisms and cricket, but these didn't bring out the chuckle that accompanies Bertie Wooster's strange expressions. 

Also, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells gives us a Jeeves that seems more flawed than the old Jeeves.   He comes across as less respected, less certain, a little pompous, and makes mistakes which I never remembered Jeeves doing in the past.  The depiction of a flawed Jeeves, however small the flaws, kept me from fully losing myself in Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.  If you're reading this review, you're likely a fan of Wodehouse and of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, I'm sure that you'll take the time to revisit these old friends.  I hope that you enjoy the escape - a Jeeves story is a rare treat.  Congratulations to Sebastian Faulks for bringing the old characters back, even if in slightly different form.

  • ISBN-10: 1250047595 - Hardcover $14.94
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 5, 2013), 256 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the Publisher.

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