The Books

Book #4

The Code of the Woosters, P. G. Wodehouse

Recommended by Graham Sale. Graham is my partner’s brother’s partner (still with me?!), and recommended this book thus:

Opposite end of the scale, I think!
“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?’”
“The mood will pass, Sir.”
One of my favourite Wodehouse books.

Given the rather heavy nature of some of the books on the list, I was delighted to have plenty of light relief as well, and particularly to see Wodehouse appear. Despite having hugely enjoyed the Fry and Laurie TV series of Jeeves and Wooster in my childhood, and more recently the two series of Blandings, I don’t recall ever actually reading any of his books before. I initially intended to read this immediately after Remains of the Day – I rather enjoyed the thought of comparing and contrasting the two butlers and their masters. Sadly I wasn’t organised enough to buy it in time!

What a joyous romp this book is. To precis:  Bertie Wooster and Jeeves must reconcile newt-obsessed Gussie Fink-Nottle with “droopy, blonde, saucer-eyed” Madeline Bassett; help Aunt Dahlia to deprive Sir Watkyn Bassett of an antique silver cow-creamer; unite Stiffy Byng and her secret lover, local curate and Bertie’s old school friend ‘Stinker’ Pinker; and thwart the violent inclinations of Sir Roderick Spode by uncovering the mysterious “Eulalie”. There’s also the requisite theft of a policeman’s helmet. Bertie has been in the soup before but, as he says to Jeeves at the beginning of the story, “this one wins the mottled oyster”.

I knew I was going to love this book when within the first chapter we come across the phrase: “if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.” Anyone who can use gruntled as a word gets my vote – it’s right up there with the possibilities of being ept, kempt or couth. Farcical plot twists aside, Wodehouse’s conjuring of the quintessentially English setting is supreme. Above all that though, is his use of language, playing with syntax, mixing in his best upper-class twit slang and a healthy smattering of abbreviations. It is a complete joy to read – playful and interesting, conjuring the characters before our eyes and leading them through their merry dance.

As to that comparison between Stevens and Jeeves? Ishiguro freely admits to having used Jeeves as an influence, although also admits that they are as fictional as each other: “I was surprised to find,” he says, “how little there was about servants written by servants, given that a sizable proportion of people in this country were employed in service right up until the Second World War. It was amazing that so few of them had thought their lives worth recording. So most of the stuff in The Remains of the Day … was made up.”

Fundamentally, I couldn’t recommend The Code of the Woosters highly enough, if you’re in the market for a thoroughly enjoyable, ridiculous, yet brilliantly written romp. Thanks Graham!

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