Thursday, August 19, 2010
Something Fresh - P G Wodehouse
It’s seriously comical.
Chendil had mentioned in his blog once to the effect ‘You can never get bored of life as long as there is Wodehouse’.
This one is from the Blandings Castle series.
I did not pick just any Wodehouse but looked up the net to find the first in the series and found this. My reading is quite systematic : )
I had read a few pages of ‘Galahad at Blandings’ a few years ago when a colleague lent it to me. But since I did not finish it, this is my first Wodehouse, technically speaking.
It transported me to another world, a lighter world, where nothing really is serious and nothing matters. Just good fun and a lot of hearty laughter.
The very recollection of the story and its setting, delights me.
The characters for all their idiosyncrasies, their stupidities are absolutely cute and loveable.
As I said, its seriously comical.
I will shortly be compelled to compare this with another book I just finished - Scott Adams- Dilbert. But that’s later.
The theme central to the book is very simple - recovery of a stolen scarab. It does not matter that you don’t quite understand the word scarab, that you are hearing it for the first time, that you have never seen it. Simply think of it as a curio, an antique, treasured by a collector.
The line “Blandings castle has impostors the way other houses have mice” on the cover, plus cartoons on the front as well as the back cover set the right expectations.
So this book starts off like a detective novel describing a street, a square in London, a room in a hotel. Or at least that’s what I felt.
But in a few minutes, the mood changes as Wodehouse starts sketching one of the characters Ashe Marson, doing Larsen exercises and trying to write a detective story ‘The adventure of the wand of death‘, the latest of the adventures of Gridley Qualyle, an investigator, a character created by Ashe Marson.
That’s when you start cackling.
The fun becomes compounded with each character that Wodehouse introduces to the reader. Because each one has very distinct, unique idiosyncrasies… beginning from appearance to vocabulary to body language to habits to their thought processes.
Joan valentine, Ashe Marson, Fredrick Threepwood, Lord Elmsworth, Mr. Peters, Aline Peters, Beach (the butler), Baxter (Elmsworth‘s secretary), are some of the characters.
Fredrick Threepwood is the son of Lord Elmsworth of the Blandings castle. He is a loser and a cause of worry to his father. But a cause of comic delight to the reader.
The fact of Lord Elmsworth’s absent mindedness is the source of much comic relief in this book.
Now Freddie is engaged to Aline Peters, daughter of Mr. Peters not because he or Aline wish to be engaged but because it was so decided by their parents who were impressed by one another’s standing in society.
Mr. Peters happens to be a maniacal collector (all collectors are maniacal) of a curio, the Egyptian scarab – a beetle shaped object.
Lord Elmsworth is a collector too but he collects both valuables and the valueless.
His Blandings castle museum had the precious and the junk side by side.
During a meeting between the two collectors, when Mr. peters was proudly sowing off his collection and his knowledge of antiques, the absent minded Elmsworth put a scarb, ‘A Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty’, into his pocket and drove away.
The rest of the story is about the circus that is put up in Blandings castle in order to recover the lost scarab. All the characters in the novel arrive at Blandings castle - all of them impostors - trying to outsmart one another.
It’s the confusion that makes the reader roll over the floor in laughter - People bumping into one another at midnight, running into a flower vase in the dark, falling down the staircase, sneaking into the museum guarded by the efficient Baxter…
Interspersed with this main thread is the story of Honourable Fredrick Threepwood who engages a certain Jones to cleverly recover some love letters and poetry he had written to Joan valentine fearing that their discovery might upset his wedding plans with Aline.
The author provides meaningful insights even as she narrates a comical humorous story.
Like the lines below...
“Circumstances had made him a rapid judge of character, for in the profession of living by one’s wits in a large city, the first principle of offence and defense is to sum people up at first sight.”
“There was in her eyes, a little of November’s cold glitter, too, for Joan had been through much in the last few years, and experience, even if it does not harden erects a defensive barrier between it’s children and the world.”
Add to it, English language of a very high standard.
The story is set in 2-3 physical locations - covers a span of a few weeks or days, has a few characters - unlike those stories that go half way across the world, cover a span of 30-40 years and have a character on almost every page.
A perfect example of a wonderful recipe even without too many ingredients.