Sunday 24 April 2011

The World of Jeeves - a perfect world

The World of Jeeves by PG Wodehouse (Arrow Books, 2008) An omnibus of Jeeves and Wooster stories. (I feel silly even explaining what Jeeves and Wooster is about. If you don’t know already, shame on you. But, for the sake of form...) A series of short stories following the life of Bertie Wooster, one of a society of idle rich in a comic world created by one of the world’s greatest ever writers of sunny slapstick. Jeeves is Wooster’s “man”, taking care of every little thing for him, displaying a quiet cunning and an intelligence that contrasts sharply with his master’s loveable pompous idiocy. (There, did I catch it properly? No, I didn’t think so either...)
Here’s a GBR first. A review of a book that I haven’t finished.  But I couldn’t help myself.
We’ve all seen Jeeves and Wooster on the telly, Fry and Laurie flexing their finest comedy muscles in a setting that seems made for them. The perfectness of their performance made me avoid the original for a while. I didn’t want to spoil it for myself. I didn’t want the Fry and Laurie version to be sullied by a version that failed to live up to them.
But, of course, PG Wodehouse didn’t write a version of Jeeves and Wooster. It’s Fry and Laurie that are doing the interpreting here. Wodehouse is the creator of this world, so sooner or later I had to dip in to see where the spark came from.
So I got this omnibus. Thirty-four Jeeves and Wooster stories, all about 20 or 30 pages long. Each following on from the last, all connected, all neatly packaged.
And that’s a key word, I think – “neat.” I’m not sure I can tell you anything you don’t already know about the worlds that Wodehouse creates. They’re all just plain wonderful. Sunny. Delightful. Pleasant. Comic. Wry. Warming. Consistently all these things. But neat too. It all adds up. It all plays out to a neat conclusion. It’s rewarding and fulfilling. It just all makes sense.
But why an omnibus? Why not pick up a full blown Wodehouse novel?
Well this omnibus has become my perfect reading companion, because it’s an amazing bridge between books. The World of Jeeves resets everything. It allows you to escape completely and come up at the end of each story utterly refreshed. After two or three stories from this omnibus, I’ve shaken off everything from the last full blown book I’ve read and am ready to get stuck into the next one.
And that’s how this book should be used. As the world’s most effective pallet cleanser. One day I’ll pick up a “proper” Wodehouse and read it start to finish. But in the meantime, these shots of Jeeves and Wooster are about as close to perfect reading as I’ve ever found.
I couldn’t sit down and read all 34 stories one after the other. If there’s a weakness to Wodehouse, it’s that the same plot tools get used time after time. After two or three of these, they tend to blend into one, and you can see what’s coming around the corner.
Not that that’s a bad thing. I love the structure of these stories. I think the world is a much richer place with them in it. If they changed entirely from one story to the next, they simply wouldn’t be Jeeves and Wooster. They’d lose their caught-in-time quality. They’d lose a lot of why I love them.
This book makes everything else I read better. It makes me happy when I read it. It refreshes me. It fills me with the life stuff that’s needed to attack something new. It is, without a doubt, the easiest GBR score I’ve ever given...
10 GBR
There, I did it, my first ten. And 100% deserved as well. If a book makes your whole life better, the least I can do is put all my thumbs up as high as I can for it.


Anonymous said...

10 GBR? So it's perfect then? There isn't a better book out there? Or there might be, and if you find it you're going to give it 11?

I'm not denying it may well be very, very good, but 10 out of 10? Does it have any emotional depth? Does it explore any uncharted territory in terms of motif or plot? Is it anything more than a few, lovely, funny, well written stories, with no real, moving, underlying theme?

As someone who has enjoyed all of your other reviews, I hate to say this, but I think you've painted yourself into a bit of a corner here.

(or am I just missing the point of the scoring system???)

Gav Collins said...

Thanks anonymous - good points, and all questions I wrestled with a little before scoring this. To answer...

1) No, I genuinely don't think there is a "better" book out there. I think there are plenty of others that are as good, but none that are better. This isnt a knee jerk reaction. I hope my other reviews show how seriously I take a ten score. But I think this is perfect. Feel free to disagree (it's a matter of taste afterall) but that's just what I think.

2) if I'm wrong, and I do one day find s better book, of course I won't give it 11 (that'd be dumb). The system itself is (I hate to admit) a little flawed as it assumes there are only ten possible degrees of quality. There are of course more, but short of giving out fractions (9 and nine tenths, etc) I have to stick to the full numbers. So I guess what I'm saying is, if I find a better book (which I doubt I will) it will also get a ten, just a better ten. Doesn't make great sense, I know, but that's the problem with an out of ten system.

3) Of course there are books out there that are more moving, or have a more compelling plot. But there is more than one way to skin a cat. A single book can't be great in every single way - it can't be comic and tragic and action packed and cleverly written and witty and... the list goes on. Just because this book is great in one way and not another, doesn't make it any less great.

4) Most importantly, this is a LOT more than a few lovely stories. That's where I have my biggest bone to pick. If I thought this was just pleasant, believe me, it would not have got a ten. I happen to believe Wodehouse HAS created something perfect here. It's more than just wit. He's created an entire world, and he's done so effortlessly. These stories make me incredibly happy. I love them. If a book can evoke such a strong emotion, and colour the way I approach everything else, it deserves a statement of a score. As I heard someone say once "it ain't got no imperfections."

Well, that's my justification anyway. Ten does exist, and this is it.

Gav Collins said...

Just one more thing, (sorry, a touch of Columbo-itis). I'm not saying all of Wodehouse is a ten, or all Jeeves and Wooster is a ten. I'm saying that as a collection of short stories, as THIS collection of short stories, in THIS format, it works. It's as perfect a book as I can recognise.

And also, I'm open to being disagreed with. That's a big point of this whole thing. Me telling you guys what I think, and you telling me when I'm being a twerp so that I can better understand your tastes too.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I think we'll have to agree to disagree. I can't beleive that a Jeeves and Wooster collection is a perfect book. I'd like to see what other books you'd give 10 to.

I'd just like to come back to your 3rd point though, which I think is the main one I have issue with. I'd agree that a book probably can't be great in every way (or at least it would be almost impossible), and that's why there's no such thing as a perfect book, and why probably no book deserves a 10.

In your justifactions for not giving books like I, Lucifer and The gargoyle higher marks you've used terms like 'Perfect' and 'best book I've ever (or am ever likely to) read'. Is this the best book you have ever read, or are ever likely to read? Has it really changed your life that much? I mean more than by putting you in a good mood for a few days?

I'm going to have to read this now (I have read other Jeeves and Wooster collections, but not this one), just to see for myself. You may be right, and I may be back on this blog apologising in a few weeks.

I doubt it though.

Anonymous said...

also, if you have a problem with the scoring system, why not change it? It's your blog.

You don't want to be stuck with it forever if it's not ideal do you?

Anonymous said...

I think scoring systems are inherently misleading, that's why you accompany it with a written narrative.

It is important to pull from the review why it has received a score, and not to simply use the score as a comparison across styles and genres.

What I take from this is that should I need a short story to quickly take my mind from a perhaps more engaging or dense text, then Gavin has given this collection his strongest recommendation.

My best analogy to this would be giving a 2* hotel a 5* review because it provided everything you expected.

Anon 2

Anonymous said...

I take your point anon 2, and I think it's a fair one. I don't have a massive issue with the scoring system itself.

It's more to do with the fact that the score awarded and the peramiters that Gav has set for giving this score mark this book as 'Perfect'. I just think that that's a very big word to use for a book like this, which as far as I can see, is at best very good.

If you're saying this got 10 out of 10 because it is the perfect book of comedic short stories, rather than the perfect book full stop, then I might not be making the same arguement. But I don't think that Gav is saying that. Am I wrong?

What I would say is that this blog is always well written, it always makes me think, and it has in the past made me pick up and read a book I wouldn't have otherwise read, which I like to think would make the author pleased he had decided to start writing it in the first place.

However, it's because the blog is of a high quality that i felt compelled to comment originally, and it's for the same reason that I'm continueing to do so, even though it may make me look like a complete loser with nothing better to do (which is probably not far off the mark, but that's by the by).

Maybe we've all spent too much time thinking and typing about what is a relitively minor point. Or maybe the point of this whole thing to to stimulate conversation about books, and literature in general, in which case, it's not done a bad job.

original anon

Anonymous said...

I think Stephen Fry got right to the nub of the matter with this very apt quote on the front cover of the book: 'You don't analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth'.
To me though, if ever there was a 10 then J&W is it. Brilliant books. Brings a smile to the face and you can't wait to rejoin the Wodehouse world each time you pick up one of his books. The GBR system is there to tell you whether to spend your time with a book. Spend you time in Wodehouse world? 10/10 yes, immediately, do it now!