Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 07/31/15 3:37 PM

Book review: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulk

Sebastian Faulk’s tribute to Plum, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

Every time my eye fell on the book, I would go,  `Oh, I don’t know.`

Which is why a whole year has passed before I finally picked it up for a read. And now that I have read it, I’m still going, `Oh, I don’t know.`

Don’t get me wrong, Faulks, as we all know, is a very competent writer. And this is no parody, it’s as good a tribute to the Master as any. Plus, I’m not nit-picking. But. I still don’t know…

Let’s start with the inscription. “For all those who have laughed at and treasured his books,` it reads. Strikes a jarring note, what? Do we really laugh at or over PGW’s books?

So, for those two and a half men/women who don’t know what this book is all about, it has Bertie Wooster that old gadabout, finally meeting his match and settling for a slice of the wedding cake. With Jeeves doing some major conniving, of course. Comely damsels, crusty old men, trusty cooks come and go, and Aunt Agatha hovers as a threat throughout.

Where Faulks leaves his own mark is the references to German submarines by name, the constant India allusions — the Collector of Chanamasala in UP, an old codger nicknamed `Vishnu` Venables, and so on; sadly, these gags don’t work too well. The characters are all cut out from the (familiar) template but not one of them becomes a Character as they do in the PGW pantheon. Then, words like `charabanc` date the book in way that PGW’s references never did. Equally, phrases like `he saw me seeing him` ring out most awkwardly, a far cry from the virtuoso who gave us gruntled, as in ` he was not disgruntled but he was far from being gruntled.`

Then, I have a few questions thrown at large:
Would uber-imperious Aunt Agatha really state (albeit in a telegram) that she would be `grateful` if Bertie would host her at his place?

Would Jeeves really give his young master the lowdown on Thomas Hardy, or any other writer for that matter, totally unasked? Not the most spontaneous of conversationalists, our Jeeves, right?

Would Jeeves have actually told Bertie `your previous entanglements with the fair sex have seldom ended happily`…? Not once in all those books has he crossed the line into familiarity.

On the plus side, though, there are some really funny bits as when Jeeves expresses his appreciation of the heroine Georgiana Meadows with a quiet: `I have seldom encountered anyone with whom I have been able to discuss the work of Schopenhauer in a manner so informed yet so light of touch.`

Then, this description: Amelia was in blue, though the rims of her eyes were red. Elsewhere: `Well`, said Venables. `I was very interested by my own response.` And this: The skin was ghastly white; the hairstyle owed plenty to the quills upon a fretful porcupine. The overall expression was that of a Gorgon or Medusa.

And the butler locking up the drunk footman in Jude the Obscure’s stall, Jude being the horse due to run at the Races on the morrow, that was inspired.

Then again, it was downright plucky to attempt a `staging of a play in the village hall` episode, with virtually every living PGW fan regarding the heckling of Bertie Wooster during a stand-up comedy act staged in the village hall as a high water mark. But Faulks actually pulls it off, down to the scoffing rude mechanicals and things going (very) awry on stage.

So. Close but no cigar. At the end of this book, even as you give Faulks an  E for effort, you realise just how much work went into keeping the Real McCoy stories light, funny and yet in some ineffable way, a study of human eccentricities. That, alas, is missing from this otherwise entertaining read. Also, not one chuckle-out-loud moment. Now, I’ll hie me to my much-thumbed Ice in the Bedroom. By P G Wodehouse.

Jeeves and The Wedding BellsSebastian FaulkWodehouse tribute

Sheila Kumar • July 31, 2015

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