Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

Sebastian Faulks, Author
Sebastian Faulks. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-04759-5
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Reviewed by Peter Cannon. In an author’s note included with the galley of this homage to P.G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), Sebastian Faulks asserts that he’s “no expert,” that he’s “just a fan,” with a modesty becoming Bertie Wooster. Despite such protests, the Wodehouse estate chose well in authorizing him to pen the first new Jeeves and Wooster novel since 1974’s Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen. In addition to concocting an intricate farce complete with fresh metaphors and literary allusions worthy of the master himself, Faulks has varied the standard Wodehouse formula in ways both subtle and daring.At the start, Bertie explains how he has wound up working downstairs at a country house in Dorset one weekend, while Jeeves masquerades as Lord Etringham among the upstairs crowd. Faulks may well have taken inspiration for this scenario from Julian MacLaren-Ross’s “Good Lord, Jeeves,” a brief parody admired by Wodehouse himself, in which Jeeves is elevated to the peerage and a destitute Bertie willingly agrees to enter his service. Where Wodehouse only hinted, Faulks refers explicitly to serious events of the period, like Britain’s 1926 general strike. In chapter one, a fellow member of London’s Drones Club says to Bertie en route to a stint on the Piccadilly Line, “Surely even you, Bertie, are aware that there’s been a General Strike?” When a character later asks Jeeves if he’s related to a noted cricket player of that name, Jeeves discreetly indicates that his distant relative perished at the Battle of the Somme. In fact, Wodehouse, a keen cricketer, derived the name for his gentleman’s gentleman from one Percy Jeeves, a cricketer who was killed in action in that epic slaughter. Who better than Faulks, the author of Birdsong, a harrowing novel set during the Great War, to drop a reminder of the horror of the trenches into Wodehouse’s innocent world? In the original novels and stories, Bertie refers only in passing to his accomplishments as a sportsman. In a key chapter in this pastiche, Bertie plays in a cricket match that may baffle Americans unfamiliar with the game but serves to show him as a lovable, well-meaning bungler. Georgiana Meadowes, a low-level employee of a London publisher who joins the house party in Dorset, appreciates this endearing side of him. Astute Wodehouse fans will sense early on that Georgiana is not the typical predatory female who sets her eye on Bertie. Indeed, their relationship takes an especially poignant turn after they both play roles in a scene from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream as part of a village entertainment. As Faulks guides the reader through such familiar business as Jeeves disapproving of one of Bertie’s sartorial eccentricities (in this instance, growing sideburns) and organizing a betting syndicate among the house guests, he takes his story to a place that Wodehouse scrupulously avoided. The heartwarming denouement, which reveals how the godlike Jeeves has manipulated the action from behind the scenes, humanizes Bertie and Jeeves as Wodehouse never did. In my humble opinion, Faulks has outdone Wodehouse. (Nov.) Peter Cannon, PW’s senior reviews editor, is the author of Scream for Jeeves: A Parody.
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