by Sebastian Faulks
Apologies – apparently I forgot to take a picture of this one before sending it back to the library!
So yes, here we have an actual Jeeves & Wooster book not written by P.G. Wodehouse. What is this sacreligiousness, you ask? It is, in fact, a surprisingly fun story written by someone who obviously loves Wodehouse’s work and characters.
Let’s be honest: I was more than a little terrified of this book. I am a HUGE Wodehouse fan (for those of you who have only been following me for a day), and have recently been reading through all of the Wooster stories in their published order. Then I saw that Faulks was publishing another book, with the permission of the Wodehouse estate, I was filled with equal parts horror and anticipation. Then my book blog friend, FictionFan, published a review on the book. I was stunned to find that the review was actually a positive one! Since FictionFan holds Bertie and Jeeves in the same high esteem as myself, I was slightly more confident going into the reading that it wasn’t going to be absolutely dreadful.
Faulks is pleasantly candid about the fact that he knows he isn’t Wodehouse. He writes the book, he tells us, out of a love for Wodehouse and his work, and a desire that perhaps a fresh story added to the collection will help to encourage a new generation of readers to pick up one of Wodehouse’s tales. He has written a story that, I think, captures the essence of Wooster and Jeeves without attempting to be Wodehouse, and I think that that was what made this book readable.
The story was fun, with much chaos and role-swapping and assumed identities and star-crossed lovers (all Wodehouse hallmarks). However, I never, at any point, forgot that I was reading the work of someone other than Wodehouse, and even if I had been given the story without any identifying features, I still would have known it wasn’t Wodehouse. The main reason, as FictionFan also mentioned, was the way that Faulks introduced, for lack of a better term, real time into his story.
I think that one of the most wonderful parts of the Wodehouse stories is the way that they don’t actually fit into a real period of history. It’s almost like he created an alternate universe, one in which the Great War never occurred and Britain didn’t lose such a huge number of their young men to the trenches and the horrors thereof. In Wodehouse’s England, everything is lighthearted and merry; aunts and terriers are the most dangerous foes, and serious subjects (like death and illness and major familial strife) are more or less completely avoided. That is what makes his books so genius and so completely uplifting and hilarious. There is no dark matter, no background story, no historic setting. Wodehouse’s stories take place in a world that has never existed, the early 1900’s without any wars or the Great Depression.
Faulks, in contrast, introduces historical context into the story multiple times. Not in a long, drawn-out way, and not with specific dates, but he definitely mentions people dying on the Lusitania and other events that would have taken place around World War I. The death of Bertie’s parents is spoken of as a reason for him to bond with the girl with whom he has fallen in love. In short, the story is a bit more real, and thus not as light.
Some reviews that I have read have disagreed with having Bertie fall in love (for real this time), but I didn’t mind that part of the story, even though it strays from Wodehouse formula (his stories tend to be a bit sitcomish – everyone more or less ends up where they started). Wodehouse never really concluded the Wooster tales – he was still writing books at the time of his death. Somehow, for me (perhaps because I’ve just read ALL of the Wooster stories), Faulks’s story seems like a fitting conclusion for the series – loose ends are tied and all is golden.
And I think that that was how I felt when I finished this book – I felt as though the story was really finished. It was almost as though the Faulks story was an epilogue to all of the Wooster books Wodehouse had written.
Overall, this was a surprisingly enjoyable read. While not imbued with Wodehouse magic, Faulks nevertheless brings to life Wooster and Jeeves and then sends them off into the sunset, content and companionable. Definitely a recommendation for anyone who has loved that pair through the years.