Sebastian Faulks does Jeeves, a review in the style of Wodehouse

Jeeves

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

Review: Justin Fox

Thanks to this novelist chap Faulks, an all round good egg, Jeeves and Bertie are back. This latest pastiche, rendered in the voice of PG Wodehouse, is not half bad, what. The author explains that it’s intended as a tribute to good old PG and that he, Faulks S, understands what a minefield he’s walking into. He doesn’t want to ‘drift into parody’, only trying to ‘pay homage’ to the ‘peerless originals’, etc etc.

The plot turns around the fact that Bertie’s great chum Woody Beeching has fallen head over the proverbials in love with the daughter of Sir Henry Hackwood. Amelia is a sweet young thing who misinterprets a completely innocent gesture on Woody’s part and now the engagement’s gone the way of the Titanic. That is, unless Bertie and Jeeves can come up with a plan, hence a cunning roll swap where Jeeves plays the lord and Bertie his valet.

Needless to say, Jeeves impersonates a peer to perfection, while Bertie, never having made so much as a cup of tea in his life, makes a hash of things. He goes so far as to accidentally tip a bowl of gooseberry fool into the lap of Dame Judith Puxley (an expert on the cuneiform script who has the eyes of a rattlesnake that’s just spotted its lunch) … and then he tries to remove it with a Georgian tablespoon.

There’s a subplot, of course, which involves Bertie being rather smitten by Sir Henry’s ward, Georgiana Meadowes, a gorgeous creature he meets while on hols in the French Riviera. Georgiana is ‘a hazard to male shipping’ with ‘eyes about as deep as the Bermuda triangle’. Indeed, she has our Bertie quite discombobulated. When he’s in her presence, his heart beats the sort of rhythm you hear in the Congo before the missionary gets lobbed into the bouillon. She is unfortunately not v good in motor vehicles, as Bertie notes: ‘To say that she drove in the French fashion would be to cast a slur on that fine people. The pedestrians leapt like lemmings over the sea wall.’

Alas, Georgiana has got herself engaged to another chap. So it’s Jeeves to the rescue once again. The complex plot of switches and disguises is played out in Melbury Hall, a handsome country pile belonging to the cash-strapped Sir Henry (who owes his creditors a sum equivalent to the national debt of Bechuanaland). Many a hilarious subterfuge and ruse ensues, from staged break-ins to cricket matches, and an am-dram rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Bertie playing Bottom.

For those dear readers who enjoy Downton Abbey, we’re on familiar territory here. It’s just the sort of upstairs-downstairs scenario we’ve come to know and love. In fact, this reviewer has no doubt the writer has floated his boat on the Downton soufflé, as it were. And why ever not.

Faulks S says he ‘didn’t want to write too close an imitation’ and calls the book a ‘nostalgic variation’. For the most part, he sticks to the original cut and thrust of the Jeeves style and plot. However there are times when he takes liberties that might not sit too comfortably with Wodehouse cognoscenti.

The original Jeeves narratives take place in a make-believe world that is carefree and golden. Despite being written in a period of two world wars, we get no mention of such pesky conflicts. Although many damsels are pursued, the unions are never consummated. Sex and marriage, death and war are out of bounds. And yet Faulks S introduces both, with wedding bells a ringing and references to the Somme.

In addition, we get a degree of psychological depth unthinkable in Wodehouse. Characters are ‘in touch with their feelings’, whatever the deuce that may mean. The period is also pinned down to 1926, rather than the vague interwar neverland of the originals.

SF’s prose is not always as sharp as PG’s and his minor characters not as brilliantly drawn … but dash it all, these are small quibbles. We’re not talking about high lit or copybook re-enactment here, just playful pastiche – a loving tribute if you like – that makes for a dreamy, midsummer read.

Faulks’s additions to and modulations of the originals are for the most part happy ones, or at least not too distracting. And the book does bring us a little bit closer to understanding why Wodehouse was so darned good. Which is exactly what any good homage should do.

Suffice it to say that this reviewer found the novel v entertaining with many a moist eye had from bounteous hilarity and a warm, not entirely unwelcome, fuzzy feeling at the end. So sit back, relax with a half-bot of something fruitilly red and a wedge of ham pie that could jam open the west doors of Salisbury Cathedral … and enjoy. Pip pip.

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