Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

In need of a pick-me-up? Pick up any P.G. Wodehouse story about Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves. I dare you to frown even once as you frolic in English countryside with the likes of Stiffy Byng, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Stinker Pinker, the local curate. Just reading their names brings a smile to my face.

If you’ve read (or seen on TV) any of the ten or more Jeeves & Wooster stories, you know that ingenious Jeeves must rescue scatterbrained Wooster from awkward pickles. In Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Bertie must be rescued from a series of pickles, including repeatedly being mistaken for a thief and being threatened with an unwanted betrothal to the demanding daughter of the very man who detests him most, ex-magistrate Sir Watkyn Bassett. Hilarity ensues.

I could picture the silliness of most of the scenes, and my favorite was one in which Bertie and Watkyn bump into each other in the hallway in the middle of the night. “ I felt my way along the wall I collided with what turned out to be a grandfather clock, for the existence of which I had not budgeted, and it toppled over with a sound like the delivery of several tons of coal through the roof of a conservatory. Glass crashed, pulleys and things parted from their moorings, and as I stood trying to separate my heart from the front teeth in which it had become entangled, the lights flashed on and I beheld Sir Watkyn Bassett.” Moments later both men leap onto a large chest to avoid being bitten by a dog. Wodehouse unfolds this scene over seven pages with perfect pacing, droll observations, and funny dialog. Not to mention Watkyn’s dressing gown of yellow frogs on bright purple fabric.

Wodehouse’s clever wordplay, colorful descriptions, and understated British humor always delight me.

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