Author Sebastian Faulks was approached to write a sequel to the Jeeves and Wooster books of P.G. Wodehouse by the Wodehouse estate, which emphatically maintained since the announcement was first made that the story would be “faithful to the history and personality of Wodehouse’s characters.” Even so, as one who has read and relished these books for years, I have to say that I began this new installment with more than a modicum of doubt as to whether Faulks could pull this off. These were, after all, big shoes to fill, whether they belong to employer or valet. Anticipating the state of his reader's minds, Faulks addresses these doubts in his Author's Note, saying at the outset, "What I tried . . . to do was give people who haven't read the Jeeves books a sense of what they sound like; while for those who know them well I tried to provide a nostalgic variation - in which a memory of the real thing provides the tune and these pages perhaps a line of harmony."
In keeping with the musical metaphors, I'll tell you now that Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was a well played comic concert worthy of not a few well timed guffaws. It was delightful to find Jeeves and Wooster in a new storyline after all this time. New might not be the proper word; after all, Wodehouse himself employed several tried and true plot devices that became recurring threads in several books - bright young things getting engaged, bright young things falling out with their intended mates short of the altar, Bertie being buttonholed into patching things up between the lovers, Jeeves sorting out the results of Bertie's mucking about, hidden identities, Aunt Agatha, cash strapped aristocrats and the appearance of at least one stately pile. All of these, and the Drones Club, make welcomed reappearances in Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, in which we find Bertie and Jeeves swapping roles - Jeeves assumes the identity of Lord Etringham, while Bertie pretends to be Jeeves’ manservant Wilberforce as they wend their way down to Sir Henry Hackwood's Melbury Hall in Dorset so that Bertie can help a pal with affairs of the heart. . Note: Georgina Meadowes, to whom Bertie recently lost his own heart whilst in Cannes, is also in residence. And is engaged to someone other than the Wooster chappie.
Now that we've got all of our Wodehousian ducks in a demented row, here's an excerpt from Jeeves and the Wedding Bells at the point where Bertie gets his first glimpse of Melbury Hall: "I am something of a connoisseur of the country pile and I must say old Sir Henry had done himself remarkably well. At a guess I would say it was from the reign of Queen Anne and had been bunged up by a bewigged ancestor awash with loot from the War of the Spanish Succession or some such lucrative away fixture. This ancient Hackwood had stinted himself on neither grounds nor messuages. The ensemble reached as far as the eye could see, taking in deer park, cricket pitch, lawns and meadows as well as walled kitchen gardens and a stable block that could have quartered the Household Cavalry. The staff needed for such a place must have drawn on every household in Kingston St. Giles and I could see that whoever signed the yearly cheque to the electricity company would need a tumblerful of something strong to nerve him for the task."
Not too shabby, what? This Faulks fellow seems to have gotten the tone right. In fact, his Bertie Wooster seems a tad less dim than he tended to come across in Wodehouse's original books. Some, in other reviews, have complained about this slight deviation. However, it's my belief that Bertie simply had to evolve over time, even if that time were just a month, or even a year, in the imagniary world of P.G. Wodehouse. How often can one have the same tricks played upon their person without ever coming out the wiser? Dare we say that there's a time in every clubman's life when he's simply got to get with it?
The reader might also notice just the slightest variation in Bertie's interactions with the beloved and all knowing Jeeves, but this does not dim the cadence of their conversations. Here's a sample of the dialogue that comes just before Bertie is set to wait at table at dinner at Melbury Hall that night. Bertie is concerned that his cover will be blown by being in such close proximity to the inhabitants of the house:
"It is a fact of life, sir," he said, "that in the course of a large dinner party those at table barely notice those who wait on them."
"Unless they make an ass of themselves."
"Indeed, sir. Otherwise, the company tends to take the service for granted and to be absorbed in its own conversation."
"That sounds a bit ungrateful."
"It is the way of the world, sir, and not ours to question. Might I for instance ask you who waited on you last time you stayed at Brinkley Court?"
"No, sir. Mr. Seppings was indisposed. It was Mr. Easton, a young man from the village."
"I didn't notice."
I pondered this for a moment. "It's still a blood-curdling prospect."
"I understand your trepidation, sir. Remember, however, that your disguise has been unremarked thus far. Then, to make assurance doubly sure, as it were, it might be advisable to alter your appearance in some small way."
"A false beard?"
"No, sir. The footman you are replacing -"
"Hoad? The gargoyle?"
"Mr. Hoad also has a pair of side-whiskers."
"Are you saying the whiskers naturally go with the cork-screw and the folded white napkin?"
"They are more frequently worn by the serving classes, sir."
There are times to take offence, but this was not one of them. I left my high horse unmounted - though tethered pretty close. "What else?"
"If you were to part your hair centrally, sir . . . It is surprising how much difference such a small alteration can make."
"Anything further? An eyepatch? A kilt and sporran?"
"Nothing so drastic, sir. I think that if you were to wear my reading glasses for the evening the disguise would be complete without being histrionic."
As you can see, the game is again afoot. I suggest that you refrain from peeking at any further reviews before reading Jeeves and the Wedding Bells lest the handful of nitpickers poison your mind against this enjoyable effort by Mr. Faulks, who is emphatically not P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse is dead. Faulks is alive. So are Bertie and Jeeves. Enjoy.
Author Sebastian Faulks
ISBN-10: 1250047595 - Hardcover $14.94
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 5, 2013), 256 pages
Labels: Kristine Hughes, On The Shelf