December 27, 2004

Plum Watch - Code Blue!

Kathy the Cake Eater has finished her first Wodehouse novel, Ring for Jeeves, and is somewhat unimpressed by it:

This book left me with a not-unpleasant taste in my mouth, yet it certainly wasn't the most flavorful thing I've ever tasted. For as much as Wodehouse is heralded as the "funniest writer ever!" I certainly didn't fall off my chair at any of the hijinx in this particular novel. While I enjoyed finally being introduced to Jeeves, I'm up in the air about him as a human being. He may be a good and devoted servant, entirely unflappable, and one of the cleverest characters ever to grace the page, he was so above every other character in this novel that his talents seemed wasted on this lot of slackers. Finally, while I adored the language, the story the language was employed to tell was predictable. I certainly don't have any problem with formulaic novels, but this novel---and how do I write this politely?---bored me. I know. Heresy. But before you light the fire at my feet, know that it is possible for an author to make me green with envy with their prose and still bore me to tears with the story they're choosing to tell. Ask Don DeLillo about my reaction to his Underworld and I think he'll give you a clue.

However, she properly puts her finger on the major problem with this particular novel:

While I'm sure this isn't the best of the Jeeves catalogue, it's leaving me wondering about the rest. Is the rest different? What does Bertie add? Or is Bertie just like Bill and is completely uninteresting? (I know some will consider that last sentence to be slanderous, but hey, I'm a newbie. Cut me some slack.) My much beloved Hennepin County Library System hasn't coughed up the rest of the requested novels yet, so I'm unable to compare.

Oh, yes it is. Considerably different. I let fly with a snap-shot comment to her post:

The hallmark of the Bertie and Jeeves stories is the fact that they're told as first person narratives - as related by Bertie. (Ring for Jeeves and one short story are the sole exceptions.) The joy of the writing is the way in which Plum unfolds the plots in Bertie's particular jargon, which is a collection of half-remembered quotes from school, advertising jingles, news headlines, catch-phrases and slang, and also the way in which he manages to maintain Bertie's half-witted but sympathetic point of view. Jeeves, bless him, is a prop, not a character, whose chief function, aside from serving as the deus ex machina of the plot, is to provide a linguistic foil to Bertie's blather.

The other thing to bear in mind is that Wodehouse's work is light comedy fluff. Exquisitely crafted fluff, but fluff nonetheless, a kind of musical without the music. Searching too deeply for meaning or motive, or trying to judge any of the characters in real world terms, is the equivalent of poking holes in a souffle to find out what's inside. Poof!

(The business about the language, by the way, is why I dislike the Jeeves and Wooster tee-vee series so much. It is impossible to translate a written first person narrative to the screen, especially one in which the way the story is told is often funnier than the actual story itself.)

I also recommended that Kathy give Right Ho, Jeeves! or The Code of the Woosters a try to get the real flavor of the Bertie and Jeeves cycle.

Of course, there are people in the world for whom Wodehouse simply holds no fascination. I sincerely hope that Kathy doesn't turn out to be one of these folks and that she'll enjoy a second helping of Wodehouse more than she did the first.

Posted by Robert at December 27, 2004 10:10 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?