Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: My Man Jeeves (Jeeves #1) by P.G. Wodehouse

My Man Jeeves (Jeeves, #1)My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Jeeves and Wooster stories are known as the epitome of British humor. So of course I had to see myself. I found a lot of influences on modern British comedy, but, overall, they're a specific kind of humor, dependent on the antiquated class system and people with more money than sense.

My Man Jeeves is a collection of eight stories, three of which don't include Jeeves or Bertie Wooster. There's not a lot of variety in the story structures. Each feature a young man who's trying to get away with something. Then Bertie Wooster (or Reggie, in the three exceptions) helps. Something happens to complicate the situation and/or expose the young man's dishonesty. Then, through luck (in Reggie's case) or Jeeves' anticipating the complication, all works out for the better. The people involved, the deceptions, and the reasons for them all change, but otherwise, the stories are interchangeable.

Most of the humor lies in our perspective characters' lack of intelligence. Bertie is aware Jeeves is smarter than he is, but he insists on trying to use his limited capacity, often to disastrous effect. Jeeves often outsmarts Bertie, himself, which Bertie often doesn't notice. Jeeves is definitely the one in charge, and he's smart enough to give Wooster the illusion of choice. The complications often come about because Jeeves has to work within the framework Bertie set for him, as a direct contradiction just isn't done.

Aside from the repetitive nature of the stories, there's another major flaw. Female characters are either young, in which case they're capricious and/or greedy and/or conniving, or they're old, in which case they're domineering and unpleasant. I never got the impression that was an aspect of the satire, that they were really whole people beneath Bertie's or Reggie's impressions. Most of the characterizations are shallow, but some of the male characters get painted in a sympathetic light, while the female get no such consideration.

These are light, funny stories, and probably best read spaced apart to reduce the repetitiveness. If you'd like to read a major influence on modern British comedy, I'd recommend these stories. You may find some amusement value in the antiquated slang, if nothing else.

I read this on audio, narrated by David Thorn. The narration was good, with the exception of a few verbal flourishes. He rolled his r's, often extravagantly. It was to illustrate how well the perspective characters thought of themselves, but it often served to distract, and occasionally irritate.


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