Saturday, September 29, 2012

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

I won't call this one a review. I dare not delude myself with the notion that I possess the slightest ability to review P.G. Wodehouse's delightful oeuvre. Hence, I'll simply share my thoughts.

The names say it all. I mean, P.G. Wodehouse and his evergreen creation - the incomparable Jeeves. There can be no improvement on such perfection, charm and fine humour. Wodehouse-ism camouflaged as Jeeves-ism rules.

Carry on, Jeeves is considered as a part of the Jeeves canon and is a collection of ten short stories by that word-magician par excellence, also known as P. G. Wodehouse. It was first published in the United Kingdom on 9 October 1925 (by Herbert Jenkins, London), and then in the United States on October 7, 1927 (by George H. Doran, New York). Many of the stories had previously appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and some were rewritten versions of stories in the collection My Man Jeeves (1919).

The ten stories are: 1. Jeeves Takes Charge. 2. The Artistic Career of Corky. 3. Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest. 4. Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg. 5. The Aunt and the Sluggard. 6. The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy. 7. Without the Option. 8. Fixing It for Freddie. 9. Clustering Round Young Bingo and 10. Bertie Changes His Mind.

The first story in the book, "Jeeves Takes Charge" is where we are introduced to the inimitable Jeeves, the "gentleman's personal gentleman" who "shimmers" and "oozes" in and out of rooms. Jeeves' vastly superior intellect and ample talents as a troubleshooter is regularly pressed into service to help his employer, the young, rich, idle Bertie Wooster (actually: Bertram Wooster) - to get "out of the boullion," in which he has a habit of landing himself into, with unfailing regularity.

Jeeves arrives one fine morning (rather, quietly enters young Bertie's life) as a replacement for the young aristocrat's previous, thieving valet.

... And soon, by some sheer magic, Jeeves has everything running smoothly - even Bertie himself! Bertie no longer has to worry about what colour of tie or coat or make of shirt suits him or which type of shoes he must slide his feet into. And (methinks) all this would have undoubtedly culminated in delaying the appearance of gray in his crowning glory.  :-)

As the stories roll along, we find Jeeves rescuing him from sundry relatives and fastidious acquaintances, and on more than one occasion even manages to successfully pull him back from the waiting jaws of some or the other 'lioness' (for whose imaginary charms Bertie has momentarily succumbed to). And what's more, Jeeves does not even mind extending his considerable talents as a "lifesaver" to Bertie's friends, and so, effortlessly bails them out of whatever "rather bally" situation they find themselves in from time to time.

Now, this is what I call the priceless Jeeves touch, and it is far more potent (and worthwhile) than the much-coveted, materialistic Midas touch.

In this book, Bertie narrates the stories (in the first person) in his own inimitable style, except for the final one - "Bertie Changes His Mind," which employs Jeeves as the narrator. And it is here that Bertie scores over Jeeves; and this is undoubtedly the young Wooster's greatest achievement in life.

Jeeves' dry style is somewhat jarring to the reader otherwise accustomed to Bertie's signature wit. It may, therefore, stand out in this collection (not outstanding, mind you). In fact, I can safely conclude that the final story (Bertie Changes His Mind) may not even go down well with the most committed of P.G. Wodehouse-converts, especially after they have had a taste of Bertie's brand of "Wooster Sauce" - his uniquely humourous style of narration.

Jeeves is best written about than writing or narrating (anything for that matter). He is an enigma, and his quiet efficient style holds our attention, nay captivates us. The role of a narrator takes away his shine, and this is simply not done; since, you see, Jeeves was always right (!!) ... and so his aura couldn't diminish.

My two pence worth: Carry On, Jeeves is a quick read; it will delight everyone who loves to laugh. And what's more, you'll never tire of taking this 254-paged laid-back, fun-filled sojourn again and again. [Actually, there are 273 pages, but "Bertie Changes His Mind" takes up the remaining 19 pages, as you may have rightly guessed by now.]

The book jacket cover is really nice: cherry red with a dash of fluorescent green; even the fonts used gel very well with the overall look and feel of the book. It's classy.

We find young Bertie sitting in a chair, a thick book on his knees, and half his face buried in his right palm. He is clearly worried and at his wits end, perhaps trying to figure out a way of installing an invisible firewall between himself and the book, while also nursing a raging hangover simultaneously. Jeeves, carrying a tray with a glass of "Worcester Sauce" (I presume) hovers over him - like a shadow. This gives the impression that Jeeves is the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Genie to Wooster's befuddled Aladdin. Ingenious!

However, I have a confession to make. The incorrigible book-lover in me has (until now, that is) somehow managed to escape all those pages that contained Jeeves. And I am not even a Wooster!! Meaning: I'm no English aristocrat - by any stretch of imagination. And I have none of the trappings that the young carefree Wooster is happily encumbered with, namely laziness.

This is because as a Bengali, I simply cannot be lazy. Though (at times) I can very much be lajee. But then, being lajee is completely different from being lazy. And if you were to ever make the galti se mistake of calling me 'lazy,' I'd simply stamp my feet and say, 'mummy I won't play.'

Matter finished! That's roshogolla diplomacy for you. Bheree pheeshy :-)

[Aside: I now must grapple with the important issue of whether to write to the Guinness World Records, urging them to include my name in their hallowed list of achievers. After all, I have managed to accomplish that rare and stupendous feat of not having read P.G. Wodehouse/Jeeves - until so late in life! What say you?!]

Umm, well, since I do not have the benefit of that miraculous Jeeves-patented "Worcester Sauce," I must make do with mugs of straang, piping-hot south Indian filter kaapi instead - in order to clear the cobwebs of my mind. This is because, despite its best efforts, Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chili Sauce cannot give me the required ketchup call. As for the eggs, a couple of them would make for a pair of perfect bull's eye - sunny side up, which then in partnership with a couple of nicely toasted bread, would make for a tasty and healthy breakfast. But all this still won't quite make me a Wooster, you know. But am I complaining? No, absolutely not! I'm more than happy reading about him.

As for the red pepper (from Jeeves' "Worcester Sauce"), we may want to periodically gift them to our benign red neighbour - as a mark of our everlasting friendship, which also earned the rite of passage from Bhai-Bhai to Buy-Buy thanks to the strengthening of ties: polka-dotted, baby-pink, checked, et al.

And last but not the least, Jeeves' glorious intellect made Bertie ponder over - whether Jeeves was brought up on a diet of fish. Now, this bit is guaranteed to instantly make the innermost cockles of a Bengali heart rejoice.

So, imagine having Jeeves at the helm of Oaest Bengal-turned-Poschimbongo?!

Or better still, Jeeves in a blue turban?!!

Ki bolen? What say you?

Verdict: Carry On, Jeeves is a delicious hors d'oeuvre that would make for an extremely pleasant breakfast table/bus-cab-taxi-auto-train-air commute/lunchtime/bedtime munching (I mean: reading). If you don't like this book, you obviously are a fan of the Raaz series.

About the author: P.G. Wodehouse is the author of almost a hundred books and the creator of Jeeves, Blandings Castle, Psmith, Ukridge, Uncle Fred and Mr. Mulliner. He was born in 1881 and educated at Dulwich College. After two years with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank he became a full-time writer, contributing to a variety of periodicals. As well as his novels and short stories, he wrote lyrics for musical comedies, and at one stage had five shows running simultaneously on Broadway. At the age of 93, in the New Year's Honours List of 1975, he received a long-overdue Knighthood, only to move on to the afterlife on St Valentine's Day some 45 days later.

He sure was a jolly good fellow. And Bertie was fun!

Details of the book: Carry On, Jeeves/ Author: P.G. Wodehouse/ Publisher: Arrow, an imprint of Random House/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 01/07/2008/ Genre: Classics/ ISBN-10: 978-0-09-951369-8/ ISBN-13: 9780099513698/ Pages: 273/ Price: $19.95)

Picture: The book jacket cover of "Carry On, Jeeves". Courtesy: link.

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