In Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Sebastian Faulks pulls off the daunting challenge of recreating P.G. Wodehouse’s beloved characters—the certifiable goof Bertie Wooster and his omniscient valet Jeeves—and plunges them into another brilliantly-farcical story.
How did you get approval from the estate to write this?
Wodehouse’s step-grandson, Sir Edward Cazalet, who runs the estate, had been thinking for some time of commissioning a new book. Then he read an essay I had written on Jeeves in my book Faulks on Fiction, which went with a television series I did for the BBC three years ago and thought I would be the right person. It turned out that my London publisher, Hutchinson, was also PG’s, so that was handy. At first I said No on the grounds that I had done one continuation- James Bond-and wanted to get on with my own work. Also, it seemed dauntingly difficult. But while playing cricket in India in January I had an idea for a story and I changed my mind.
Wodehouse was rumored to have plotted his books by using index cards pasted around a room to keep track of everything. Did you do the same?
I wrote an outline of the plot in a paperback of a Jeeves book I read on the plane from India. I rewrote it with illustrations on A2 cartridge paper (a large sketch pad in other words). I threw in some quotations, arrows, diagrams etc.
How hard was it to capture Bertie Wooster’s voice?
It would be tempting providence to say that I have ‘captured’ it. I have read the books so many times that I do have a voice in my head that I can just dial up. Whether it is authentically Bertie’s is not for me to say.
How different was the process from writing your James Bond novel, Devil May Care?
Fleming’s prose worked very well for him, but Wodehouse is one of the great stylists of the century. So that was different. And challenging. In both books there is the question of the character’s limitation. I could not get Bond to stop and think at all. It was unconvincing. So I just had to give him more things to do. But Bertie was more malleable. I have given him a bit more emotion and a bit more reflection than his creator did. He didn’t seem to mind at all. The main similarity is that both are very plot-heavy. A Jeeves novel has a farce plot that goes like a Swiss watch. My own books are a bit light on plot so I had to work very hard at that aspect.
What has writing this book taught you?
How difficult to it is to keep everything light. It is like cooking a satisfying dinner using only spun sugar, egg white and Bollinger. Dashed tricky.