Stuck-in-a-Book’s Weekend Miscellany

Hope you’re all having a good weekend! Mine is disappearing all too quickly… and I’ve read only 20 pages of the book I was intending to finish. Oops.

Slightly different from usual this week, as I’m going to be entirely egotistical in this miscellany… these things are all me elsewhere.

1. I wrote about Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse over at Vulpes Libris.

2. I made a cake to celebrate the 400th Very Short Introduction book.

3. And I appeared in this Oxford Dictionaries video (see the post for answers):

And my favourite title is…

What a wonderful selection of favourite titles you all came up with! I’m almost reluctant to put my review up, as I loved hearing them all – do keep letting me know your favourite title, on the previous post, and perhaps I’ll do a post on my favourites from them, sometime next week.

A few of my favourites, before I tell you my *absolute* favourite, and then tell you that the novel was pretty good too…

I love:

Tea Is So Intoxicating – Mary Essex
We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes – Anita Loos
The Brontes Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson
Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead – Barbara Comyns
No One Now Will Know – EM Delafield

But the one that comes out on top, because it works on at least two levels, and is intrinsically funny, is… Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen by PG Wodehouse.

Ok, wonderful title aside, this is also a great little novel. To be honest with you, I haven’t met a PG Wodehouse novel I haven’t devoured happily. According to my little drop-down author menu, the only Wodehouse I’ve written about on here was Indiscretions of Archie, another fab title, and enjoyable, but probably the worst of the Wodehouses I’ve read. Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen is back on form – and the first Jeeves and Wooster novel I’ve read.

Wooster is sent off to the countryside by a doctor because of his ‘young man about town’ lifestyle has had a disastrous effect on his general health. He plumps for an Aunt in Worcestershire (land of my upbringing!)

“Is the air pure there?”

“Excursion trains are run for people to breathe it.”

“Your life would be quiet?”

“Practically unconscious.”
Sadly, said Aunt Dahlia is herself off to Maiden Eggesford, Somerset (she’s following me around the country!) and so Wooster decides to follow her there, Jeeves in tow, naturally.

It is one of those villages where there isn’t much to do except walk down the main street and look at the Jubilee watering-trough and then walk up the main street and look at the Jubilee watering-trough from the other side. This bit amused me, because whenever Mel and I visit a little village, we look out for their Millennium Project. Every village has one, usually fairly humble, and generally unveiled in mid 2003. I’ve seen Millennium benches, signposts, woods, stones… all sorts.

This being Wodehouse, all sorts of coincidences have come together to make more or less everyone Wooster knows turn up in Maiden Eggesford. There’s a woman he once asked to marry him, as well as her more recent beau; there’s a man he once cheated and gave a fake identity to; there is even Jeeves’ own aunt. It all gets a little complicated as two rival households are going in for a horse race, only one of the horses is closely attached to a cat, and is inconsolable without it… and Aunt Dahlia (betting on the other horse) decides to have the cat kidnapped. Or catnapped, if you will. Hence the title – it’s not cricket, she is not acting like a gentleman. And so it all begins.

I love Wodehouse’s writing, with its mixture of hyperbole and litotes – I love the unbreakable calm of Jeeves, against Wooster’s exaggerations and whimsical turn of phrase (I love that he always cheerfully calls Aunt Dahlia either ‘aged relative’ or ‘old ancestor’ – but don’t think I’ll be trying this out on my own aunts. Who are not, for that matter, particularly old):

“Have you ever seen a garrison besieged by howling savages, with their ammunition down to the last box of cartridges, the water supply giving out and the United States Marines nowhere in sight?”

“Not to my recollection, sir.”
I just find Wodehouse endlessly funny. But I must confess – I thought Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen would be my favourite ever Wodehouse, centring (as it does) around a cat – but, for some reason, the cat is given very little personality. I love reading about cats, and I’d have thought Wodehouse would be on top form writing about one… but perhaps he is not a cat person. Shame.

But, even though this doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of its feline potential, it is great fun and very good – sometimes a Wodehouse just hits the spot in a way that no other book can. If you’ve never read one before – well, firstly, I’m a little horrified – secondly, why not start with this one?

Indiscretions of Archie

A brief blog today, as I still have to pack for the next week and a half…

I bought Indiscretions of Archie by PG Wodehouse in Winchester, because I liked the title and the age of the book, and you can never go wrong with Wodehouse. A quick scan of Amazon tells me that there are lots of different editions available, including one forthcoming in the brilliant Everyman series. Mine is from the 1920s, and has a wonderful mustiness to it.

Archie is an insouciant Englishman who travels to America with his new wife Lucille. He prefixes almost everything with ‘jolly old’, and is filled with bonhomie to bursting. His plan is to hit it off with father-in-law Daniel Brewster, hotel proprietor. Which, as you’ll have guessed if you’ve ever read Wodehouse, doesn’t go quite to plan. And then chaos ensues.

Only Wodehouse could get artist’s models, snakes, pie-eating contests, dietician experts, and someone who once gave someone a sausage in the war all into the same novel. There are some wonderfully funny scenes, and everything Wodehouse touches comes out hilarious. He has a brilliant mix of hyperbole and litotes, not to mention delightful similes – ‘Archie was one of those sympathetic souls in whom even strangers readily confide their most intimate troubles. He was to those in travail of spirit very much what cat-nip is to a cat.’ Indiscretions of Archie isn’t my favourite Wodehouse, and I discovered why after I’d finished. The novel was originally a series of short stories which Wodehouse then linked together, and it really does show. I should have guessed. His novels are usually characterised by their cohesion and crazy, but coherent, plots which all come together at the last minute. Indiscretions of Archie is much more disjointed – very funny, but rather more episodic than most of his novels are. Not the best place to start, but I always enjoy being reminded how brilliant Pelham Grenville was.

Favourite Wodehouse novels? I find them so similar that it’s difficult to choose, but my first one was The Girl on the Boat, so it might be that one.