Very Good, Jeeves
Penguin: Random House
There has been a glut of non-fiction in my reading diet recently. Doctoral literature has been eating up a lot of my at-home reading time, whilst I am finding that the commute to work lends itself more to non-fiction (history mostly) – my tendency to let my thoughts wander whilst driving means that I’m better able to plug back into a narrative I’m already familiar with. In an attempt to remedy this imbalance, I read my first Wodehouse, an author regularly cited as a bona fide genius by the likes of Stephen Fry and Kate Mosse. Wodehouse was prolific in later life, writing more than ninety books, two-hundred short stories, and forty plays. He is perhaps best known for his Wooster and Jeeves series of novels and short stories chronicling the chaotic, bumbling socialite Wooster and his long-suffering, brilliant manservant. I chose to start with ‘Very Good, Jeeves’, a collection of stories about the duo.
The wit of Wodehouse is apparent from the first page; I’m struggling to think of another author with such an ear for dialogue. The conversations are clipped, wonderfully staged, and laugh-out-loud funny. Wodehouse is able to amuse, progress narrative, and illustrate character in so few words that I was genuinely amazed at his technique. The dialogue is also the primary vehicle for the lifeblood of the stories and, I am assuming, the series – the relationship between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. There is so much humour in what is said, and so much joy in what is left for the reader to discover unsaid within the repartee.
I usually look for what I think could be improved within a book. In this case it is probably character development – Wooster and Jeeves retain the same characteristics, motivations, and flaws throughout the eleven short stories that make up ‘Very Good, Jeeves’. This criticism would however be missing the central attraction of Wodehouse’s writing. This is storytelling to amuse, to titillate. It is the man telling a tale at the bar, the primary school teacher with children clustered at her feet. Wooster and Jeeves is writing with reading in mind, and Wodehouse is an author confident that his brilliance is enough to entertain. It is.
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Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0