Another fun little novel from my childhood by Dick King-Smith. A bit of a departure from his normal ‘farmyard fantasy’ (Dick King-Smith is a pr 4 Stars
Another fun little novel from my childhood by Dick King-Smith. A bit of a departure from his normal ‘farmyard fantasy’ (Dick King-Smith is a prolific author of books featuring talking pigs, mice, and various other animals), Tumbleweed is a fantasy-comedy featuring a very clumsy, nervous, knight who meets a friendly witch, befriends a lion and a unicorn, and goes off in search of damsel to rescue from a dragon.
As a kid I loved stories of knights and castles, so when, aged about 8 or 9, I picked this up for weekly ‘read aloud’ sessions with one of my primary school’s teaching assistants, I absolutely adored it – despite it being a very short and easy read. So my four stars rather than three is completely driven by nostalgia. It’s probably one of those children’s books that’s best read when you either are a child or have children to read it to/with. But it is fun – and I did love Jones, the Welsh Dragon – I hadn’t picked up originally that he used actual Welsh speaking patterns so that got a little laugh out of me, I could definitely hear the accent when I read it this time. It also has some fun jokes and really cute cartoonish black and white illustrations that I don’t remember from reading as a child, but really loved this time around.
If you’re reading with kids and like to discuss themes and messages with them then it’s got a couple of those too; ‘what is courage?’/'can you be brave and afraid?’, as well as judging people on appearances, what makes a good friend, and the morality of taking credit for other people’s actions.
Not as totally awesome as I remember, but still a cute and funny story aimed pretty squarely at younger readers....more
While I thought Lady Susan was absolutely great, I would probably only recommend Austen’s juvenilia and her later unfinished novels to people w 3 stars
While I thought Lady Susan was absolutely great, I would probably only recommend Austen’s juvenilia and her later unfinished novels to people who are really interested in Austen and her development as a writer. Personally (and although a fan I’m not an Austen worshiper like some) I thought the juvenilia was absolutely fascinating and would have loved to see the finished versions of the two abandoned novels. If that sort of thing doesn’t interest you, though, and you want a completed story then just go for Lady Susan or give this book a miss completely and stick with Austen’s published novels.
‘The [. . .] shorter tales in this collection: [. . .] vary in their storytelling skill and characterisation, but in each we can see glimpses of the writer Jane Austen was to become.’ (afterword)
The juvenilia is a mixed bag, some of it is recognisably similar to the Austen we’re all used to but some of the earlier stories are downright batty (but kind of brilliant!). In even the earliest of them, though, Austen is skewering and mocking the manners and socially expected behaviours of her time. And it’s really interesting to see the progression from outright, even absurd, parody of them in her early works to the more subtle social commentary found in her published novels. It cements for me, once again, that Austen’s novels are more concerned with social issues and subtle satire than they are with romance. A very interesting look at Austen’s development as a writer but, to be honest, these stories are only of real interest because of the novels she later went on to write and if you’ve not read Austen before this really isn’t where to start.
The Watsons and Sanditon I don’t have much to say about. They both open strongly, have a great cast of slightly absurd characters, and looked to be going somewhere interesting and a bit different to Austen’s other novels when they are abruptly cut off. I would love to have read the finished versions of both of them – but obviously that will never happen and I’m not much interested in reading somebody else’s continuation of either.
Lady Susan, though, is complete and it’s the main reason I bought this book. I’ve been wanting to read it since I first heard of it and looked up a plot synopsis.
Lady Susan is a deliciously different short story than what one might from expect from Austen. It’s in epistolary form for one – although letters do play a big part in almost all of Austen’s novels and a huge part in her juvenilia – and the title character and primary narrator is actually the villain (or anti-hero), rather than the heroine of the piece. And she’s brilliant.
Recently widowed, impoverished, and widely known for her flirtations, Lady Susan is forced to leave her friend’s house in scandal and settle herself with her brother-in-law, Mr. Vernon and his family. Once there she immediately sets about trying to make Mrs. Vernon’s brother, Reginald, fall in love with her – purely for the sake of keeping herself amused and to get one up on Mrs. Vernon. She also plans to force her daughter, Frederica, to marry a rich but obnoxious man by keeping her utterly miserable and socially ostracised until she agrees.
Lady Susan is nasty, manipulative, self absorbed, deceitful and an absolutely horrid, abusive mother. But she’s also a very compelling character. The epistolary format of the story means that, as well as reading other character’s opinions on her we also get to see how she acts and thinks in her own words. And the story is at it’s best when Lady Susan is writing to her friend and co-conspirator, Mrs Johnson, revealing just how uncaring, and unsympathetic she is. On a Mrs Johnson's husband: ‘… of what a mistake were you guilty of marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.’ on her daughter: ‘She is a stupid girl, and has nothing to recommend her‘ and on her flirtation with Reginald: ‘There is exquiste pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person predisposed to dislike acknowledge one’s superiority‘. She's a total bitchface and I absolutely love her.
But the epistolary form is also the story’s undoing. In the end the narrator has to abruptly apologise that the story could not reasonably be told through letters anymore (just as it looked like it might be getting tense for Frederica too) before shifting into a very short and clumsy third-person account to tie up all the lose ends. It’s a really, really, unsatisfactory way of concluding it and it feels like Austen had written herself into a corner and then decided just to give up and move onto something else. But I liked the main body of the story, Frederica and Reginald were both a bit wishy washy but I enjoyed Lady Susan and her self absorbed lack of compassion and utter two faced-ness immensely. ‘Strong female characters’ don’t have to be nice. And a main character who toys with several men for her own amusement whilst having an obviously sexual affair with a married man…that’s pretty ballsy.
All in all a fascinating collection of Austen’s work – but probably only so for those already fans of Austen and interested in her early and unfinished works....more
Probably my favourite Austen. A re-read for an online book group, but a book I’ve been meaning to reread for a while anyway. It’s the least pol 5 Stars
Probably my favourite Austen. A re-read for an online book group, but a book I’ve been meaning to reread for a while anyway. It’s the least polished of Austen’s novels – the pacing feels a bit off in the second half and the ending feels quite rushed – so I was originally going to give it either four or four and half stars to reflect that, but actually, flawed as it is, I can’t help absolutely adoring it.
The main attraction I think is that it’s a bit different from her later-written and better known books – more youthful and vibrant and funny. Austen is always funny, of course, but you really get the sense that she was having fun with this one. The heroine, Catherine Morland, is the youngest of Austen’s female leads, being an impressionable seventeen – and at that awkward teenage stage where you’re starting to be considered an adult, but nobody’s really quite explained the rules for you. She’s not got Elizabeth’s quick mind, Emma’s overwhelming self-confidence, or Elinor’s thoughtfulness. But neither is she a Marianne; wild impulsive and romantic, with no concern for how others view her. She wants to be clever, self-confident, and thoughtful, she desperately wants not to behave improperly and draw negative attention to herself, but she isn’t even sure what’s considered improper and what isn’t. She’s unguarded and open in her conversation, takes people at face value, and tends to fold to the opinions of people who she believes have more experience. In short she’s a slightly self-conscious and eager to please teenager.
Taken to Bath for the season by a family acquaintance, the first half of the book follows Catherine’s adventures (and misadventures) of her first experience with high society and the friends (and false-friends) that she meets there. Poor Catherine is immediately out of her depth, there’s balls and plays and more balls and more plays and shopping and boorish suitors, and lots of young pretty people in fancy clothing. All the normal rules of society seem so relaxed that it’s hard to fathom what is appropriate and what isn’t, especially when people keep telling Catherine different things and her guardian is more concerned with the price of muslin than in advising her through these new experiences. At first mortified that she doesn’t know anybody, Catherine soon falls into the company of the beautiful and flirtatious Isabella, with whom she indulges heavily in a shared love of sensationalist gothic novels, and Isabella’s unbearable brother John. She also meets Henry Tilney, the best love interest in Jane Austen. Henry has the distinct advantage of neither being a cousin, nor having known the heroine from the moment of her birth, but even ignoring that he’s clearly the best – he’s funny, sarcastic, flirty, and genuinely kind and considerate. Darcy might be the one everyone lusts for, but Henry’s the one I would like to date. He takes the piss out of himself and likes to banter! That is literally all I ask for in a bloke. And really, can you imagine putting up with someone as self-important and judgemental as Darcy? Yuck.
The second half of the book takes us away from the relaxed society of Bath and into the austere setting of Northanger Abbey, the Tilney’s home (invited there by Henry’s younger sister). And here it turns into a parody of the gothic novels Catherine loves to read. In the setting of an old medieval abbey her imagination, encouraged it has to be said by Henry’s teasing, goes into overdrive and she starts seeing murder, madness, and evil in everything. What is the secret of Northanger Abbey? Is Henry’s mother really dead? Mad? Locked up? Murdered? And why do his children all feel so uncomfortable in General Tilney’s presence? Dun dun dun! It’s in equal parts funny and excruciatingly awkward watching Catherine investigate her suspicions only to find innocent explanations in everything. But there is a mystery there, if a more mundane one – and it arrives rather abruptly at almost the very end of the novel before getting almost as abruptly resolved.
The pacing is definitely a little off in this last half and if I was judging purely on quality I would deduct a star (maybe two) for it. But you can’t judge a book purely on the quality of the writing, books are emotional things and I’m irrationally in love with this one, flaws and all. I love the characters, I love the humour, I love the interludes by the narrator, and I love the easy-going, friendly romance between Catherine and Henry. No great smouldering love affair but two characters who first experience attraction over a shared joke – that’s a relationship I can get behind. Catherine is absolutely adorable, Henry is totally fanciable, and many of the sidecharacters are up there with the best of Austen – although General Tilney is rather weakly sketched, I love Isabella, and John the boorish boorfaced bore may well be a very simple stereotype but he’s no less fun to absolutely loathe because of that.
A lighter, fluffier read than most Austen, it’s very evidently written by a younger writer, but it definitely deserves more love than it seems to get. Only thing I don’t like is that the afterword in this edition takes things waaaaaay too seriously – it’s a total funsponge. The book itself though, is great....more
A very serious contender for my favourite book this year (currently competing against We, the Drowned), I’m having a really hard time thinking5 stars
A very serious contender for my favourite book this year (currently competing against We, the Drowned), I’m having a really hard time thinking what to say about this one. It really is true that positive reviews are harder to write than negative ones. Add to this that this is a very complex novel – touching on themes of slavery, fascism, racism, capitalism, exploitation, class conflict, the european arms race, economics, trade unions, human experimentation, the ‘civilising’ mission, the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, Nazi theories of ‘Lebensraum’ and a hell of a lot more – plus the unconventional way it’s written and, well…there’s either too much to say or too little. There’s simply so much stuff I feel I should be better informed on before I could possibly talk about. And then the blurb goes and tells me that it’s an allegory for 1930s Czech politics in and I start feeling even more inadequate in my ability to comment!
Since I don’t feel qualified to talk deeply about the historical specifics I’m going to try to go for the more general approach. Although that extra knowledge and context would have been nice you really don’t need it to understand and appreciate the novel in itself. The themes, although tailored to reflect the political situation of the 30s are sadly still all too relevant and relatable today. And even with only the broadest and most basic knowledge of its historical context it’s very understandable as an allegorical satire of Europe’s own brutal history of oppression, from the slave trade (where the wild newts are beaten senseless, kept in slimy oil slicked tanks, and those that survive the journey sold for extortionate prices) right up to Nazi expansionism (where the newts have propagated so much that they start demanding their territories be expanded into human lands to provide space for them all). It could so easily have come off heavy-handed and trite but the way Čapek handles it, blaming neither side exclusively but criticising both and explaining the political and economic reasons such things came to be with incredible dark humour, stops the book from feeling remotely ‘preachy’. It’s a book that made me think, that absolutely horrified and appalled me in places, but was so spot on with its analysis and caricatures of human nature that you just had to laugh – even as you saw the ‘war with the newts’ becoming ever more inevitable.
It’s a heavy going book, not only in the themes but in the very writing style. It’s one of those books that’s more about ideas than characters and as such there is really no single protagonist. Captain van Toch – who uses frequent racial, national, and anti-Semite slurs but is utterly devoted to the welfare of his newts – is used as the primary character in the first ‘book’ to introduce us to the context of the newts – the size of a child, vaguely humanoid, incredibly intelligent and able to work tools, develop complex skills, and even learn human speech. After that though, as knowledge of the newts becomes widespread and humanity turns to exploiting their abilities for slave labour, the closest thing the novel has to a ‘protagonist’ is a minor character who collects any and all newspaper clippings he can find about the newts. The majority rest of the book up until the final chapters is written almost more as a history textbook than a novel, drawing on these clippings as primary sources to illustrate its points. Far from finding this dull (as I sometimes do when other books try similar things) this was my absolute favourite section of the story, I loved reading all the different newspaper articles Čapek had come up with to illustrate the different attitudes towards the newts in various times and places. Some were funny – Indians demanding lifesaving newts leave for touching members of the higher castes, others were horrific – the report from a scientific conference where the experiments on newts were outlined but none felt unnecessary and they all contributed to making the premise feel fleshed out and ‘realistic’ – and to show the unfolding path both humans and newts both took to get to the war of the title. The formating was occasionally a little irritating – several articles were multiple pages long but because they were all in the footnotes you had to flick back afterwards to find where you had left off the main text – but the writing was so solid I could totally forgive it that. What really got me though was the last chapter ‘The Author talks with himself‘ where Čapek breaks the fourth wall to have an argument with himself about if and how the final war could have been avoided. It’s a powerful chapter on its own even if you ignore the context it was written in and the impending Nazi threat to his own country.
I really wish Penguin had deigned to provide an introduction or afterword for this novel, there’s so much in here that could be discussed and contextualised that the non-inclusion of one really is a massive oversight (which their online reading notes don’t really make up for). The extent of my own (and I suspect a lot of British readers) knowledge of Czech politics in this period is only the very very broad context for the Nazi takeover given at GCSE and A level lessons but just Googling and Wikipedia-ing the author’s name brought up so much that would really have been relevant. Far from just being a science/speculative-fiction author and the inventor of the word ‘robot’, Čapek was very involved in Czech politics, an outspoken critic of fascism and number two on the Nazi’s list of ‘public enemies’ in the country. In a book where one of the main themes is an allegory of the lead up to World War II (though Čapek died before it came to that) it seems kind of astounding that a publisher like Penguin, well-known for providing insightful scholarly introductions, didn’t bother to include one here.
Probably not a book that is universally approachable or has ‘mass appeal’, it quite possibly it requires an interest in modern European history (with some of his depictions of the war against the newts it’s almost astounding to hear that he died before WWII ever commenced). I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want anything too heavy going – but it’s made it onto my list of absolute favourites and I will be tracking down any more Čapek that I can and checking out the rest of Penguin’s ‘Central European Classics’ (something I planned to do anyway since I’ve had such success with translated fiction in the last few years). Love, love, love....more
Very enjoyable, but lacking a certain something found in the best Jeeves & Wooster novels. Not quite as laugh out loud funny. More of an3.5 Stars
Very enjoyable, but lacking a certain something found in the best Jeeves & Wooster novels. Not quite as laugh out loud funny. More of an occasional chortle. Good to see Jeeves back with Bertie where he belongs though. Bertie, not Jeeves, should always be the main attraction, but the more time the two spend together playing off each other, the better....more
Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books b4 Stars
Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books but I’d be very had pressed to try to pinpoint why.
Joy in the Morning (Jeeves in the Morning in the US) sees Bertie forced to visit the village of Steeple Bumpleigh to help facilitate a meeting between his Uncle Percy and the brilliantly named US businessman, J. Chichester Clam. Whilst there Bertie also becomes embroiled in an old schoolfriend’s increasingly disastrous attempts to win Uncle Percy’s permission to marry his ward and finds himself the very unwilling ‘snake in the grass’ to in ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright’s relationship with Bertie’s dreadful former fiancée, Florence Craye. Highlights include a fancy dress party, a house fire, a Sinbad the Sailor costume (complete with ginger whiskers), a staged robbery, an increasingly vindictive policeman and, of course, Bertie Wooster’s wonderfully narrated first-person perspective on everything.
All in all it’s typical Wodehouse stuff, very much of the same mould as the earlier Jeeves novels and short stories, which are all very much in the same mould as each other. So much so that every time my dad (being a fellow Wodehouse fan) catches me with a Jeeves and Wooster, after curiously inquiring which one, he always and invariably admits to not knowing whether he’s read it or not, asking for a plot point, and then going ‘well that pretty much describes all of them’. But, well, that’s all part of their charm. It’s like watching a favourite sitcom: you always know what you’re going to get when you pick one up. Not my favourite in the series, but still very enjoyable....more
It’s summer again! And summer means lying out on the lawn with a cold drink and a Jeeves and Wooster. The UK’s been having somewhat of a heatwa 5 Stars
It’s summer again! And summer means lying out on the lawn with a cold drink and a Jeeves and Wooster. The UK’s been having somewhat of a heatwave recently so actually the ‘lawn’ was more like ‘straw’ and I missed the company of my beautiful dogdog who passed away last month, but otherwise it’s as close to perfect Jeeves and Wooster conditions as you can get and I was able to spend a very enjoyable day snorting to myself over Bertie’s misadventures.
There is, of course, nothing significantly different in The Code of the Woosters from any of the previous Jeeves books – Bertie finds himself in an awkward situation, it escalates and escalates and escalates, and then Jeeves solves it – but that is all I want from a Jeeves and Wooster. I know exactly what I’m getting from these books and that’s a familiar but very very funny comedy of errors, wonderful use of the English language, and absolutely masterful storytelling.
In this book Bertie is invited to Totleigh Towers to help heal the rift between Gussie Fink-Nottle and his fiancée after a misunderstanding over him removing a fly from her cousin’s eye. Bertie must also steal a silver cow creamer from his host, Sir Bassett, a magistrate who once fined him five pounds for pinching a policemen’s helmet, and find a way of reconciling Sir Bassett to the idea of his niece, Steffy, marrying the local curate. All the while escaping the clutches of Bassett’s other houseguest, Roderick Spode, a man who ‘Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment’ and who aspires to become a Fascist Dictator (it's the 30s). Of course, it’s never quite that simple and Bertie finds himself getting tangled in an ever more messy web of miscommunications and misunderstandings. It’s all ridiculous, brilliant, stuff.
And Bertie is probably my favourite first-person narrator ever. Its his character, more than the situational comedy, that really makes these books great. He narrates how he speaks and he speaks like a 1930s not very bright member of the idle rich, peppering his language with deliciously dated terms and slang slang ‘golly’ ‘bally’ ‘rot’, and references to half remembered (and normally misunderstood) quotations, stories or songs. ’...I mean to say. I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot as well.‘ It’s almost impossible not to hear his voice as you read. And it’s all so understated and played so straight (this is where most TV adaptations of Wodehouse get it so dreadfully, dreadfully, wrong) that it’s impossible not to love him.
So, five stars for this one. Yes, it’s simply more of the same but when the same is as brilliant as P.G. Wodehouse at his best, that doesn’t really matter. It’s precisely what I’m looking for on a glorious sunny day. I doubt I’d recommend reading the whole series back to back (that really would get repetitive!) but when the sun’s shining and I’m in the right mood they’re absolutely glorious....more
To be honest although this felt like a 3.5 read, that’s not because it’s a bad book. In fact it’s as good as, if not better than, the last Jeeves b3.5
To be honest although this felt like a 3.5 read, that’s not because it’s a bad book. In fact it’s as good as, if not better than, the last Jeeves book I reviewed and gave 4 stars to – it’s certainly far less problematic and offensive. What made this book less enjoyable for me was simply that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pick it up in the first place. There’s been a lot of unpleasant stuff going on recently and I though I needed something lighthearted to cheer me up – and it worked, to a certain extent, but it wasn’t particularly conductive to getting the maximum enjoyment from these books. Next time I will remember my own theory – Jeeves works best when accompanied by a jug of Pimms, lying out on the lawn on a sunny day. Reading it crammed in the back of a car, with torrential rain pouring down outside just isn’t the same. Nevertheless I’ll try to go over the key points.
Right Ho, Jeeves is the second full length novel in the series, and far less episodic than its predecessor. It’s also a bit more understated, going back more to the short story roots of social misunderstandings rather than the occasionally whacky hijinks of Thank You, Jeeves which saw Bertie dealing with a violent drunk, a pair of overzealous policeman, and blacking-up to escape a crazy American. By contrast Right Ho, Jeeves is positively sedate. Gussie Fink-Nottle is in love with Madeline Bassett (who believes that ‘every time a fairy sheds a tear, a wee bit star is born in the Milky Way‘) but too painfully shy to say anything, while Tuppy Glossop has just had his engagement to Bertie’s cousin Angela called off for daring to suggest that the shark that attacked her on holiday was probably just a flatfish, Bertie’s aunt is looking for a tactful way to inform her spendthrift husband that she lost the money he leant her for her ladies magazine on gambling – and it’s all one big situation that practically screams for Jeeves. Unfortunately, Bertie and Jeeves are at loggerheads over one of Bertie’s faddish pieces of clothing, so Bertie decides to solve this one alone.
What follows is, predictably, a mess of miscommunication and misunderstanding until the situation is a million times worse than how it started. At which point of course Jeeves swans in, does his thing, and solves it in approximately five minutes. There are some absolutely wonderful bits in this book – the prize giving at the local boys school is hilarious and Auntie Agatha’s description of Bertie ‘To look at you, one would think you were just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot – certifiable, perhaps, but quite harmless. Yet in reality, you are a worse scourge than the Black Death’ had me snickering to myself. Overall, however, I just wasn’t in the right mood to enjoy the book fully. It felt a bit too similar to the short stories, but lacking a lot of the Bertie-Jeeves banter that I so enjoy, and the sollution…well it feels a bit like a magical fix really.
I still enjoyed it, and I still love Bertie – I mean how can you not love a man who gets so much joy from playing with a rubber duck? I’ll still continue to read the rest of the books, but I’ll make sure that it’s a nice sunny day and that I’m in the right mood to appreciate them before I pick one up again. Lesson learnt....more
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a pCrossposted from my blog
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a pile of revision, a cold drink, and a Jeeves and Wooster book onside to de-stress between doses of Cold War politics. Add to that the company of my beautiful old dog, take away the revision, replace the non-alcholic drink with a pitcher of Pimms and it’s damn close to the perfect way to spend the summer. And as such I tend to think Stephen Fry is bang on when he says of Wodehouse; ‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour’. Damn bloody right. Thank You, Jeeves is probably not the best of the Jeeves and Wooster books and it certainly has it's flaws but it is still a hilariously funny, lighthearted, comedy of errors that deserves every one of the five stars up there for pure enjoyment factor but loses one, I'm afraid, because I'm just not comfortable with some of the attitudes that were considered 'ok' when this was written.
Bertie is, as ever, a charmingly clueless narrator – I confess I have something of a book-crush on old Bertie – with a wonderfully imaginative yet almost childishly simple mastery of the English language that conveys not just the story but a very stong sense of his own character - something that’s often strangely absent from first-person narration. I was having too much fun reading to make a note of all the brilliant phrases, metaphors and similes that made me laugh out loud but there’s one on almost every page. Just opening the book at random gives me ‘He made a noise like a pig swallowing half a cabbage, but refused to commit himself further’ and there are many more and better descriptions in there too if I were to try and hunt them down. The quality of the plot almost doesn’t matter when the writing is this good.
But the plot in fact is fairly stong. Although I could see almost each twist coming up as I approached it was with gleeful anticipation rather than bored ‘knew that was going to happen’-ness. It’s no spoiler to say that it follows the formula of every other Jeeves and Wooster story ever; Bertie inadvertently gets into an awkward situation, which through a series of misunderstandings and ill-conceived attempts to remedy then escalates even further until, just as everything is about to go really bad, Jeeves rescues him with some fiendishly simple plan. It’s a good formula and I was very glad to see that it managed to hold up pretty well when stretched to fill a whole novel – my previous Jeeves experience being just the first three volumes of short story collections. I doubt it’s the best of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but it’s not bad either, especially as a first try.
The one warning I would give is that it is incredibly politically incorrect and racially problematic in places – a lot of the story revolves around Bertie, in blackface, trying to find some way to get the boot-polish off and being constantly foiled. There’s also some casual use of the ‘n-word’ as an perfectly acceptable everyday description. If you keep in mind the time the story was written and the context, it’s not as bad. Blackface minstrels (as far as I can tell there are no actual black characters) were a shamefully real thing, they did exist, and they were a part of the cultural backdrop of the period the Jeeves books are set in (in fact I'm ashamed to say they lasted until the 70s in the UK) – but it is definitely jarring to modern sensibilities and the situation even more cringe-inducing than it was for its intended audience. Nothing intentionally offensive, I hope, but unintentionally. . .very. I (a white girl) was able to half-overlook that and try to forget it to focus on the other wacky events, but I wouldn't blame anybody else at all if they weren't.
Apart from that one rather shocking aspect, it is a good book and, once I accepted ‘ok, different time period, different standards’, I got back to enjoying the situational comedy. Bertie is brilliant, Jeeves is as coolly clever as ever - though there isn't as uch interplay between them as in previous collections, and the side characters were of pretty high quality. I liked Pauline Stoker a lot more than many of the previous female characters in the short stories – I’m meant to, of course, but still - she had a bit of spirit going for her even if she was a bit silly on occasion. While Sir Roderick Glossop making a reappearance and refreshing the reader on his history with Bertie is always fun. The other side characters were a little bit samey-samey filling their designated roles of ‘old schoolfriend in love’, ‘disapproving father’, ‘annoying child’, but Jeeves and Wooster relies on these sort of stereotypes and repeated roles so, until they actually start feeling tired or ringing completely hollow, I’m not going to complain.
As I said, it's probably not the best Jeeves and Wooster – I’m currently collecting the next few novels and so hope to find out shortly – but damn enjoyable if you’re able to get over the different standards of the time. Just what I needed to help me get through revision. However, I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book, The Inimitable Jeeves, and working from there though rather than jumping in here at the first full length novel. It works perfectly well as a standalone book and further reading isn’t required but Bertie does occasionally reference past misadventures from the short stories in passing....more