Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

No ordinary gentlemen

Sarah Laurence reviews the new Jeeves and Wooster novel by Sebastian Faulks

BY SARAH LAURENCE

Entrusted by the Wodehouse estate, acclaimed British author Sebastian Faulks (who modestly describes himself as “just a fan”) takes up the intimidating PG Wodehouse mantle to revive the Jeeves and Wooster partnership 40 years after Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen – Wodehouse’s last novel about the pair – was published.

With the hope that Faulks’s Jeeves and the Wedding Bells will introduce Jeeves and Bertie Wooster to an entire generation of younger readers, Faulks and the Wodehouse estate wanted to extend the legacy of the unusual friendship between gentleman and his “gentleman’s personal gentleman” (that’s “butler” to you and me, but don’t use the term to his face).

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells sees the normal order of things turned on its head as Jeeves puts on Bertie Wooster’s best bib and tucker (not to mention his paisley dressing gown) and goes above stairs in the role of his master. As can be expected, he does this with the ease of a gentleman. Bertie on the other hand – rising early, making tea and serving at table in poor intimation of Jeeves’s usual duties – is as uncomfortable as the proverbial dry fish.

Needs must however, as the pair plot and scheme in aid reuniting a beautiful lady with her rightful suitor, Bertie’s childhood friend. She isn’t, though, the only beautiful lady in the book, and as the pair manage to sink themselves deeper and deeper into a morass of slapstick comedy (unusual in its ability to remain entertaining without being painful), their task becomes ever more difficult.

Faulks writes in a voice that, although faithful to the characters and full of subtle comedy and innuendo, remains resolutely his own. In a short note preceding the novel he explains, with something of a disclaimer, “I didn’t want to write too close an imitation of that distinctive music for fear of sounding flat or sharp. Nor did I want to drift into parody.” The result is a success. Not as a Wodehouse novel, but as the “nostalgic variation” for which he aims. Having somewhat of a reputation as a decent parodist (Faulks wrote a Bond book in the style of Ian Fleming in 2008), many critics agreed that in this tribute, his task was far more ambitious.

Whether you’ve long been a fan of the intricately comedic and absurdly English craftsmanship that is Wodehouse’s literature, merely a fan of Faulks’s writing, or you just think this novel has a ridiculously pretty cover (it does), this book is guaranteed escapism of the type that would once have been described as “good, clean fun” and is sure to send you digging into the Wodehouse archives for more.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is published by Hutchinson and is available from Kalahari.com.

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