Monday, December 24, 2018


So, thanks to friend Jeff (hi Jeff) I learned about the just-published new novel JEEVES AND THE KING OF CLUBS (nov 2018) by Ben Schott. This may best be described as Wooster and Jeeves without Wodehouse. That is, it has the characters, setting, idiom, plot-elements, and so forth in common with Wodehouse's stories, used by permission of the Wodehouse estate. But it's not by Wodehouse himself.

This makes it one among many such books: I've read a Nero Wolf novel not by Rex Stout, a Perry Mason story not by Earl Stanley Gardner, several Lord Peter Wimsey books not by Dorothy L. Sayer, and any number of of Sherlock Holmes stories not by Doyle. The assumption in all these seems to be that it's the characters (along with some touches of setting) and not the author that make the story. But the experience of reading one of these posthumous continuation series suggests otherwise. I think I read such books out of a hope that, even though the author is gone his or her series might continue. We'll get more, even when we know there's no more 'more'. To borrow one of Tolkien's metaphors, you can assemble the familiar ingredients, but in the hands of any other cook try as you may it's a different soup.

As for JEEVES AND THE KING OF CLUBS, it's enjoyable enough but distinct enough from the originals to be obviously so by design. That is, Schott knows he can't replicate Wodehouse so he doesn't try; he uses the same ingredients to cook up a dish of his own. The essence of the plot postulates that the Junior Ganymede club is secretly a branch of the British Foreign Service and that through it Bertie is being recruited to keep an eye on British fascist Sir Roderick Spode, whose foreign contacts make him a potential genuine menace. Wodehouse wd have turned this into a light frothy farce, the fictional equivalent of a perfect screwball comedy; Schoot plays it straight except for a few carefully staged scenes. More importantly, his Wooster is neither dim nor gullible: he emerges as an intelligent actor within the larger plot, able to interact with others as a rational fellow human beings, as when he winds up minding a lingerie shop with great aplomb for what cd have been a fraught half-hour or when he chats with a mermaid* backstage at a theatre.

In short, an enjoyable read, but it's not Wodehouse.

But then, nobody else is.

--John R.

*that is, an actress in a mermaid suit

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