Book Review: My Man Jeeves

(Note: this is not the cover of the edition I read; but this one is awesome.)

My Man Jeeves

by P.G. Wodehouse

This is the second Jeeves book I’ve read. I liked it, but not as much as the first. If you don’t know P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves books, then here’s the basic setup: Jeeves is a butler who works for a – toff? Is that the word? – an upper-class British gentleman by the name of Bertie Wooster. Bertie is a lovable dolt who has a tremendous amount of money and even more friends; because he has all this money, he has no need to do anything with himself other than buy new clothes and attend social events, which is pretty much all that happens in these stories. Unless one of Bertie’s friends gets in trouble: then Bertie springs into action. Because Bertie has a heart of gold, which is one of the charming things about these books; as much of a dolt as Bertie is, he really is a lovable one. More important for the stories and for Bertie’s friends, Bertie has a secret weapon: Jeeves. When I say “Bertie springs into action,” I mean he turns to his butler and asks him what he thinks they should do. Jeeves is a genius, and no matter how delicate or intractable the problem is that Bertie brings to him, Jeeves inevitably finds the solution. The stories work because Bertie is more appealing than all of his doofus friends, who are dolts without the golden tickers; because Jeeves is fantastic, both in his unflappable-British-butler demeanor and in his solutions, which all rely on common sense and logic more than a Sherlock-Holmes-ian insight. They also work because Wodehouse was a fantastic writer, a splendid craftsman who writes some of the best dialogue I know, and who can use slang better than anyone I can think of – which is hilarious, because it’s Jazz Age upper-class British slang, and it’s fabulous. They’re basically the lightest-hearted mystery stories I know, with the mysteries being things like, “Jeeves, my chum Reggie has to convince his rich uncle that he is married, but not to his actual wife,” rather than “Who killed that family of four” or “Who stole the Hope Diamond?” Basically, they are adorable. They are also an amusing commentary on the worthlessness – but also the essential harmlessness – of the bourgeoisie, and the wisdom of the working class, the value of street smarts, so to speak. Though it is very clear in the books that Jeeves is the only one of these two who reads.

As for this book I read, I’m not actually sure if this is an original publication; it’s an on-demand printing, with absolutely no extraneous information; no back cover, no book jacket, no author bio, no list of other works by Wodehouse or titles in the Jeeves series. It’s possible this is like a book club knock-off collection, in some way, or one of those Hey-the-author-died-but-here-are-half-a-dozen-obscure-stories kind of “new” title in a classic series.

Because that’s what this is: a half a dozen short stories by Wodehouse. Three of them aren’t even Bertie Wooster/Jeeves stories, which was a bit disappointing. They were still Wodehouse, so they were good, and the character – one Reggie Pepper – was almost exactly like Bertie in that he was an upper class idler with a trust fund and not a whole lot of brains. But without Jeeves there to bring about resolution, the story becomes a bunch of upper-class dolts fumbling around until something happens, which is not nearly as fun. The Jeeves stories in this book were great, but I do wonder if there is some other edition or title that has these same stories out there; in which case, don’t worry about getting this particular one. But do go out and read you some P.G. Wodehouse. I highly recommend it.

 

**Note: Having looked at some Amazon reviews of this book, turns out these are the very first Jeeves stories, when Wodehouse was still working out his characters and style and all; Reggie Pepper was an early version of Bertie Wooster, and not nearly as cool as the final product. These stories were re-written later, and re-published in a different book. The fact that this is the first Jeeves book is, I now remember, entirely why I got this one. So I’d recommend giving this edition a miss and looking for something else. I have a few other Jeeves books; I’ll read them and figure out if it’s important to go chronologically. I doubt it.

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