Continuing on my ever-present task of reading classic books I really should have read decades ago, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first venture into the world of Jeeves and Wooster. What’s more, my two teenage children also enjoyed the experience – to the extent that we have decided unanimously as a three to embark on another novel in the series. It says a lot when such an old book can entertain teens.
If I had a complaint it would merely be that though I attempted to find which of the novels was first so that I could enjoy them in order, I’m not sure if I succeeded or not. ‘Thank You, Jeeves’ makes many references to earlier adventures and I don’t know if this is merely a literary device, that these stories originally were printed in newspapers, or if I’ve started with the wrong novel.
As it turns out, of course, it really doesn’t matter. Wodehouse is a masterful storyteller and it quickly becomes clear that you can read these stories in any order and lose nothing in doing so. Rather like with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, though there may be some sense of chronology, you can pick up any book at any point and get started without feeling you really need to have read other books to understand what’s going on. I fully expect this to be the case with all the Jeeves and Wooster books. Time will tell.
I was also taken by surprise that this was an entire self-contained novel. I erroneously believed this to be a collection of short stories – rather like the ‘Just William’ series my children and I have also thoroughly enjoyed. But no. This is a tale of mirth which moves from the opening surprise of Jeeves leaving the aristocrat’s employ (owing to an unfortunate desire to practice a certain music instrument) to the fateful conclusion, many chapters later and after a number of disastrous events occur requiring Jeeves to save the day, to end (as they say) happily ever after.
Modern readers may struggle with the upper-class, white-centric nature of the storyline. Be ready for ‘niggers’ to be mentioned and not in a particularly nice light. Some of the ‘hilarity’ relies on the shock and humour of ‘blacking up’ which in today’s world cannot do more than raise a slight smile. While I’ve read much worse, one has to forgive the writer for being a product of the early half of the 20th century and make allowances. For readers who feel unable to do so, I do not suggest this as the book for you.
That aside, this is a novel full of gentle humour, clever phrases and moments of comic genius which come together to make a wonderful reading experience. Perhaps not a classic in itself, but certainly an undeniable joy of a bygone era in which nothing is really taken seriously.