Book review: Bertie's done proud

Nicky Pellegrino enjoys Faulks' take on Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster.

Sebastian Faulks is known for sterner work but slips easily into Wodehouse's lighter style.
Sebastian Faulks is known for sterner work but slips easily into Wodehouse's lighter style.

At heart, I disapprove of this trend for rewriting or rethinking the classics - the endless Austen spin-offs for example, and the succession of James Bond "continuation novels". I suspect these are becoming ever more common, not due to writers running out of original ideas but because publishers are doing it tough and are much happier sticking with reliable franchises.

So along comes Jeeves And The Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks (Random House), a homage to English humorist P.G. Wodehouse that I approached with an extravagant roll of the eyes. Wodehouse wrote more than 90 books, for goodness sake. Surely enough to keep even the most dedicated fans going.

Actually, I imagine many of those most dedicated fans will be harsh critics of Faulks' little piece of fan fiction. How can they not compare it to the originals and find it wanting? But I read Wodehouse long enough ago that I'm misty on the details and I found Faulks' take on them charming and as entertaining as anyone could wish a novel to be.

The plot twist is that lovable toff Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves swap roles in a bid to smooth the path of true love. This provides plenty of scope for comedy and plays nicely into the current fascination with the upstairs-downstairs lifestyle of the British aristocracy early last century.

Bertie is just back from a holiday on the Cote D'Azur where he had a splendid time with the beautiful Georgiana Meadowes. He returns to find his old chum Woody Beeching desolate as his fiancee Amelia has broken off their engagement. That and the prospect of a visit from an aunt is enough to send Bertie racing off to Dorset to see if he can help set Woody's life to rights. There he is reunited with his own romantic interest, Georgiana, at Melbury Hall, the home of her uncle and guardian, whose dire financial problems require her to marry well rather than for love.

What follows is a madcap scheme in which Jeeves, posing as a member of the gentry while poor Bertie, who has never so much as boiled a kettle, is compelled to act as his servant.

Wodehouse died in 1975 and this is the first time his estate has authorised a Jeeves and Wooster book.

Faulks says it is intended as a tribute and that he hopes it will encourage readers to rediscover the originals. Since he's already written a Bond book (Devil May Care) he's well practised in the art of literary mimicry and, to my mind, has delivered a novel that captures their atmosphere and language. It's pure froth, of course, but cheerfully written by a versatile author who seems to slip into another author's style just as ably as producing his own literary classics.

Jeeves And The Wedding Bells is perfect lazy-day summer reading - ideally enjoyed lolling in a shaded hammock whilst one's manservant brings one tea and cakes.

- Herald on Sunday

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