Whenever I am in need of a lighthearted read that requires little concentration but is guaranteed to make me laugh out loud, I turn to P.G.Wodehouse. The recent BBC adaptation of Blandings reminded me that it had been a while since I immersed myself in the witty prose and engaging mishaps of the loveable Bertie Wooster and his man, Jeeves.
Thank You, Jeeves opens in Bertie’s London flat, where we find our hero playing the banjolele, an instrument he has grown fond of of late and one that Jeeves quite clearly despises. Regular readers of the Jeeves and Wooster series will already have earmarked Bertie’s new hobby for the bin, as it is inevitable that the poor banjolele will not see the end of the novel. Sadly Bertie’s neighbours agree with Jeeves, which results in Bertie’s determination and Jeeves handing in his notice; oh horror of horrors, how will Bertie cope without Jeeves? Bertie pushes off to the country to live in a cottage on the estate of an old ‘private school, Eton and Oxford’ chum, Lord (Marmaduke) Chuffnell, Chuffy! Of course things don’t go to plan, and soon Bertie is caught up in a confusion of secret/forced engagements, contested wills and love affairs gone astray. Luckily, Chuffy has employed a new man…Jeeves!
Thank you, Jeeves is full of the usual plot devices readers of the series expect, a series of tricky problems that Bertie can’t decipher, an unwanted engagement, general loony behaviour and some of the best names characters in English literature. How can you not enjoy reading about Pongo Twistleton, Gussie Fink-Nottle or Tuppy Glossop?
However, I did not find this tale as enjoyable or as engaging as the others I have read and I put this solely down to one reason in particular: there is an underlying tone of racism throughout the novel and the climatic problem rests on a mistaken identity, racist disguise. Now before anyone gets up in arms, I am completely aware that this is a novel of its time. There are many incidents of racism, colonialism and prejudice throughout literature, and I am of the frame of mind that removing these from the canon, or modernising language to erase/gloss over history is ridiculous. But in this case I just was not expecting it and I think that is why it sat so uncomfortably with me as I was reading this novel. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I liked escaping into the carefree world of Bertie, where all problems are solved by someone else and everything has a happy ending. Considering this series was written between the wars it is amazing that very little to do with current affairs is alluded to within the books, and this is why they are so amusing and lighthearted. It is just unfortunate that the narrative didn’t quite live up to my usual expectations, luckily Wodehouse’s hilarious and witty prose did.