That new Jeeves book

What exactly is the point of this? I could, sort of, almost, see the point of the Hitch-Hiker’s sequel written by someone else — while the whole point of those books was Adams’ writing, I can sort-of imagine thinking “well, there just aren’t enough books about those characters I love” because there were only five of them. I won’t ever buy it, but I can comprehend someone who would.

Likewise, I can definitely see the point in, say, new Sherlock Holmes books — there are only eight of them, and the character is pretty much infinitely malleable.

But there are twelve Jeeves books (depending on how you count short stories and reworked versions) and they all have, to a first approximation, *exactly the same plot*:

Bertie has a new piece of clothing that Jeeves disapproves of. Bertie refuses to get rid of it, and Jeeves goes into a sulk. A friend or relative of Bertie’s gets into trouble, usually to do with romance, and wants Jeeves’ help, but Bertie says “no, I am just as good as Jeeves, and anyway, he’s in a sulk” and comes up with a solution by himself. The solution makes the situation worse, and what was one problem involving two people is now three separate problems involving five or six people, and the one with the biggest problem is Bertie. Bertie then says “Oh, OK then, we’ll ask Jeeves”, and Jeeves comes up with a solution which places Bertie in a hideously embarrassing situation, but which eventually sorts everything out to the point where everyone is happy. Bertie tells Jeeves to get rid of the piece of clothing of which Jeeves disapproves, and Jeeves says he’s already done so.

You can’t vary that much, or really at all, and have it remain a Jeeves story. The pleasure in those books is *entirely* in the language. And while most competent writers can do a decent-ish pastiche of Wodehouse’s style (I’ve done one myself, in fact) no-one in the whole history of English literature has had such a mastery of the language.

Just to take a sample scene from a random Jeeves book opened at random:

The first of the telegrams arrived shortly after noon, and Jeeves brought it in with the before-luncheon snifter. It was from my Aunt Dahlia, operating from Market Snodsbury, a small town of sorts a mile or two along the main road as you leave her country seat.

It ran as follows:

Come at once. Travers.

And when I say it puzzled me like the dickens, I am understating it; if anything. As mysterious a communication, I considered, as was ever flashed over the wires. I studied it in a profound reverie for the best part of two dry Martinis and a dividend. I read it backwards. I read it forwards. As a matter of fact, I have a sort of recollection of even smelling it. But it still baffled me.

Consider the facts, I mean. It was only a few hours since this aunt and I had parted, after being in constant association for nearly two months. And yet here she was—with my farewell kiss still lingering on her cheek, so to speak—pleading for another reunion. Bertram Wooster is not accustomed to this gluttonous appetite for his society. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that after two months of my company, what the normal person feels is that that will about do for the present. Indeed, I have known people who couldn’t stick it out for more than a few days.

Before sitting down to the well-cooked, therefore, I sent this reply:

Perplexed. Explain. Bertie.

To this I received an answer during the after-luncheon sleep:

What on earth is there to be perplexed about, ass? Come at once. Travers.

Three cigarettes and a couple of turns about the room, and I had my response ready:

How do you mean come at once? Regards. Bertie.

I append the comeback:

I mean come at once, you maddening half-wit. What did you think I meant? Come at once or expect an aunt’s curse first post tomorrow. Love. Travers.

I then dispatched the following message, wishing to get everything quite clear:

When you say “Come” do you mean “Come to Brinkley Court”? And when you say “At once” do you mean “At once”? Fogged. At a loss. All the best. Bertie.

I sent this one off on my way to the Drones, where I spent a restful afternoon throwing cards into a top-hat with some of the better element. Returning in the evening hush, I found the answer waiting for me:

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It doesn’t matter whether you understand or not. You just come at once, as I tell you, and for heaven’s sake stop this back-chat. Do you think I am made of money that I can afford to send you telegrams every ten minutes. Stop being a fathead and come immediately. Love. Travers.

It was at this point that I felt the need of getting a second opinion. I pressed the bell.

“Jeeves,” I said, “a V-shaped rumminess has manifested itself from the direction of Worcestershire. Read these,” I said, handing him the papers in the case.

He scanned them.

“What do you make of it, Jeeves?”

“I think Mrs. Travers wishes you to come at once, sir.”

“You gather that too, do you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I put the same construction on the thing. But why, Jeeves? Dash it all, she’s just had nearly two months of me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And many people consider the medium dose for an adult two days.”

“Yes, sir. I appreciate the point you raise. Nevertheless, Mrs. Travers appears very insistent. I think it would be well to acquiesce in her wishes.”

“Pop down, you mean?”

“Yes, sir.”

Now, if Sebastian Faulks is capable of writing something that good, why hasn’t he already done so, and why does he need to use Wodehouse’s characters? And if he’s not, why on earth does he think he can step into the shoes of the greatest writer of English prose who ever lived?

It’s as bad as Kenny G and Louis Armstrong.

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11 Responses to That new Jeeves book

  1. I’m hoping it at least follows the pattern of the later Wodehouse novels, in being set in the present day with no explanation of why Bertie and his associates haven’t aged since the 1920s. In the 70s Bertie got caught up in a CND rally — I’m hoping this time round he becomes a YouTube sensation for his drunken rendition of “Rehab”, and ends up embroiled in the doings of a major arms developer due to a misunderstanding over the word “Drone”.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely — that’s why in the short story of my own that I linked there, I had Bingo Little as the CEO of a tech startup.
      But of course it won’t. It’ll be ‘reverent’.

  2. Ah — I hadn’t read that. Very nice.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks — although unlike Faulkes I have the sense to realise that it’s not one millionth the quality of the original…

  3. James Brough (@thasceles) says:

    Well, Faulkes has already buggered up attempting to write a new James Bond novel (as, to be fair, has everyone else who tried it apart from Kingsley Amis). Now it’s Jeeves. If he goes on to Sherlock Holmes or Dracula, then I’ll start to think it’s personal.

  4. I suppose because people respond to branding, and in order to facilitate GB threads with titles like “I say, Jeeves, some fellow has written a new book about us” (It’s about those characters AND it’s phrased as though spoken by one of those characters – do you see?)…

  5. in essence the problem is, as you say, the use of language. i’m sure someone else could come up with plots and dialogue and characters and the like… i mean i know it has a few doubters, but clive exton showed that with the fry and laurie series. but when it comes to wodehouse’s masterful grasp of english, the sheer complexity of what he does with language yet at the same time making it all look so simple… no one can do that. and that’s not being cruel to faulks at all. this isn’t the same as a new adventure of bond or holmes because, good as fleming and doyle are at what they do… they’re not wodehouse. and who could be?

  6. Mick says:

    I’m agin it, takes pastiche to karaoke levels. Like the idea of updating Bingo though, how about Rosie writes a “50 Shades …” type of thing about Bingo.

  7. Mike Taylor says:

    This is like someone recoding a new Jimi Hendrix guitar solo. It might be brilliant, but whatever it is, it won’t be Hendrix. Note to Faulks: only Wodehouse can write Wodehouse stories. That’s what “Wodehouse story” means.

    Sheesh.

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