Publisher: Arrow Books (Random House)
Pages: 263 (Paperback)
Series: Jeeves and Wooster #4
Thank You, Jeeves is the first novel to feature the incomparable valet Jeeves and his hapless charge Bertie Wooster – and you’ve hardly started to turn the pages when Jeeves resigns over Bertie’s dedicated but somewhat untuneful playing of the banjo. In high dudgeon, Bertie disapears to the country as a guest of his chum Chuffy – only to find his peace shattered by the arrival of his ex-fiancée Pauline Stoker, her formidable father and the eminent loony-doctor Sir Roderick Glossop. When Chuffy falls in love with Pauline and Bertie seems to be caught in flagrante, a situation boils up which only Jeeves (whether employed or not) can simmer down…
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a pile of revision, a cold drink, and a Jeeves and Wooster book onside to de-stress between doses of Cold War politics. Add to that the company of my beautiful old dog, take away the revision, replace the non-alcholic drink with a pitcher of Pimms and it’s damn close to the perfect way to spend the summer. And as such I tend to think Stephen Fry is bang on when he says of Wodehouse; ‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour’. Damn bloody right. Thank You, Jeeves is probably not the best of the Jeeves and Wooster books and it certainly has it’s flaws but it is still a hilariously funny, lighthearted, comedy of errors that deserves every one of those five stars up there for pure enjoyment factor.
Bertie is, as ever, a charmingly clueless narrator – I confess I have something of a book-crush on old Bertie – with a wonderfully imaginative yet almost childishly simple mastery of the English language that conveys not just the story but a very stong sense of his own character – something that’s often strangely absent from first-person narration. I was having too much fun reading to make a note of all the brilliant phrases, metaphors and similes that made me laugh out loud but there’s one on almost every page. Just opening the book at random gives me ‘He made a noise like a pig swallowing half a cabbage, but refused to commit himself further’ and there are many more and better descriptions in there too if I were to try and hunt them down. The quality of the plot almost doesn’t matter when the writing is this good.
But the plot in fact is fairly stong. Although I could see almost each twist coming up as I approached it was with gleeful anticipation rather than bored ‘knew that was going to happen’-ness. It’s no spoiler to say that it follows the formula of every other Jeeves and Wooster story ever; Bertie inadvertently gets into an awkward situation, which through a series of misunderstandings and ill-conceived attempts to remedy then escalates even further until, just as everything is about to go really bad, Jeeves rescues him with some fiendishly simple plan. It’s a good formula and I was very glad to see that it managed to hold up pretty well when stretched to fill a whole novel – my previous Jeeves experience being just the first three volumes of short story collections. I doubt it’s the best of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but it’s not bad either, especially as a first try. The one warning I would give is that it is incredibly politically incorrect in places – a lot of the story revolves around Bertie, in blackface, trying to find some way to get the boot-polish off and being constantly foiled. There’s also some casual use of the ‘n-word’ as an perfectly acceptable everyday description. If you keep in mind the time the story was written and the time it was set in, it’s not too bad – blackface minstrels (as far as I can tell there are no actual black characters) were a real thing (in fact they lasted until the 70s in the UK) – but it is definitely jarringto modern sensibilities and the situation even more cringe-inducing than it was for its intended audience. Nothing directly or intentionally offensive but unintentionally…something to be aware of.
Apart from that one aspect, it is a good book and, once I accepted ‘ok, different time period, different standards’, I got back to enjoying the situational comedy. Bertie is brilliant, Jeeves is as coolly clever as ever – though there isn’t as uch interplay between them as in previous collections, and the side characters were of pretty high quality. I liked Pauline Stoker a lot more than many of the previous female characters in the short stories – I’m meant to, of course, but still – she had a bit of spirit going for her even if she was a bit silly on occasion. While Sir Roderick Glossop making a reappearance and refreshing the reader on his history with Bertie is always fun. The other side characters were a little bit samey-samey filling their designated roles of ‘old schoolfriend in love’, ‘disapproving father’, ‘annoying child’, but Jeeves and Wooster relies on these sort of stereotypes and repeated roles so, until they actually start feeling tired or ringing completely hollow, I’m not going to complain.
As I said, it’s probably not the best Jeeves and Wooster – I’m currently collecting the next few novels and so hope to find out shortly – but damn enjoyable if you’re able to get over the different standards of the time. Just what I needed to help me get through revision. However, I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book, The Inimitable Jeeves, and working from there though rather than jumping in here at the first full length novel. It works perfectly well as a standalone book and further reading isn’t required but Bertie does occasionally reference past misadventures from the short stories in passing.