Sunday, March 25, 2007

book of books - Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best

Apart from the television series of a few years ago starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie playing Jeeves and Wooster respectively there has not been an opportunity to read any P. G. Wodehouse.

There are certain stereotypes about his work and most do ring true: the stories are funny, about aristocrats and tend to be built around a formula of constantly getting in and out of scrapes. This collection of short stories is based around one central character, Lord Emsworth, who is the owner of Blandings Castle. Surrounded by sisters, a brother and various nieces and nephews he is also plagued by a son, Freddie, who he can’t wait to get off his hands.

Plot summary
All Lord Emsworth wants is a quiet life but that is constantly threatened by his son Freddie, staff threatening to resign and his sisters asking him to get involved with his nieces love lives. Throughout the brainless Emsworth manages to get a conclusion he desires usually through a combination of luck and chance, rather than by some great design of his own making. But he proves himself to be a man with a heart as well as a man driven by a selfish wish for solitude.

Is it well written?
In parts it reminds you of those farces that have people coming in one door just as someone goes out of another but what makes it rise above that is the way Wodehouse changes the formula just as it starts to get predictable. You have to see these stories for what they are – light hearted fun – there is not something conspiratorial going on here to expose the landed gentry. Taken on that basis this works well. The only thing about a short story collection is that the characters here never get the depth another writer would have given them so Freddie remains the dog biscuit selling son and Lord Emsworth is a peace hunting brainless fool right through from start to end.

Should it be read?
If you are looking for either a light read or a window onto a lost world of British manners and behaviour then this is perfect. Most people will head straight for the Jeeves and Wooster books but this collection has the advantage of feeling that it is one piece, with the stories interlinking and following on from each other. For someone who has not read the Jeeves and Wooster books this presumably gives a taster and that seems like a logical destination next.

In his search for peace and quiet Lord Emsworth scrapes through and manages to fend off problems in the form of his family, pig men and pumpkin growers

Version read – Penguin Classics paperback

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