Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Review: Jeeves in the Offing

Jeeves in the Offing Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I own a second-hand paperback of this, which I have presumably read before, though I don't remember it. Maybe I picked it up to read and never actually got to it?

In any case, a classic Jeeves and Wooster, for all it was published in 1960. It pulls together elements from previously in the canon, not only the Brinkley Court setting and Bertie's beloved Aunt Dahlia, but the headmaster of Bertie's prep school (who is the stepfather of Dahlia's goddaughter, and invited himself along when she invited the goddaughter to stay); the red-haired menace Bobbie Wickham, given to ill-advised action on a whim with disastrous consequences both to Bertie and his old friend/her fiancé, Kipper Herring; and Sir Roderick Glossop, the prominent loony doctor/nerve specialist, undercover as the butler, Swordfish, to observe the goddaughter's prospective fiancé for signs of mental instability. This fellow is the son of a man Dahlia's husband Tom is trying to close a business deal with, so she can't show open hostility to him.

Cue stratagems, pickles, mistaken identity, broken engagements leading to Bertie being next in line despite quailing from the prospect, and all the usual Wodehouse shenanigans.

It sticks to the formula, for sure, but it's a formula that works, the language sparkles as ever, the reader is caught up in what, objectively speaking, are very small stakes as if they were of world-shattering importance (because, to the characters, they are), and Jeeves brings the whole thing to a satisfactory conclusion, though rather at Bertie's expense as usual. This time, there isn't a tiff between them over some fad of Bertie's that Jeeves disapproves of, which is a departure from the usual formula.

The further on the series goes, the more Jeeves fades into the background and becomes an occasional deus ex machina for extracting Bertie and everyone else from the soup, in which he has been thrashing about in the foreground for most of the book, getting deeper and deeper (though occasionally pulling off a successful scheme). I think Wodehouse realised early on that if Jeeves just solves everything there's no tension, so he keeps him out of the action altogether or has him baffled in order to let the hijinks play out, occasionally throwing another disaster in just when the characters think they're doing well. It works.

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