Over Seventy by PG Wodehouse (Herbert Watkins: 1957) A self proclaimed "autobiography with digressions". Wodehouse pontificates on pretty much everything, using his status as a septuagenarian to wisely survey the world before him and the life he's led
Having decided to treat myself last week, I couldn’t resist more of the same. I never could leave it at just one biscuit. Just one scoop of ice cream. I always had to have two. Or more often, three. Occasionally four. Five once or twice, but never six.
So the treat this week was Wodehouse shaped. I love that guy. Like most people, it started with Jeeves and
(courtesy of Fry and Laurie). But once I decided to read some of the books, I was hooked in whole other way. Read about it right here (for those Wooster GBR novices amongst you).
This, though, isn’t another typical Wodehouse book or short story. This is a memoir of sorts. Not for ole P.G. the introspective story of a life well lived. Not for him the listing out of events and friendships that spanned his years. Instead, Over Seventy is his 200-odd page response to a request from a journalist asking for some of observations of the world now that he was officially an old gent.
I was chuffed that the opening of the book does at least go over some biographical details. I wanted to know how it all started for Wodehouse, and I was given the facts of the matter in fairly short form. I even found out one or two things about his “process” that surprised me (you’ll have to read it to find out for yourself).
But then the book deviates. As Wodehouse argues, any book of his life would largely be taken up with “and then I wrote another story, and people liked it. And then I wrote another story, and people liked it. And then I wrote…” and so on.
So instead, we’re treated to his musings on any number of topics and trends, generously interspersed with an anecdote here and a by-the-way there.
It’s warming reading. It really is. It has the same escapism and old world humour that his fiction does. It wraps its arms around you, deposits you in an old leather armchair, lights the fire, puts a glass of port in your hand, locks the world outside, and does a thoroughly good job of entertaining you. It’s easy, and that’s its power. It comes off the page in the honeyed tones of your granddad.
All the more impressive given the work that’s gone into this. Wodehouse admits himself that he goes through small forests worth of paper in planning his books. Each sentence is formed, reformed, redrafted, edited, reshaped. He went to a lot of trouble to make his writing what it is.
There is a Wodehousian downside though, and one I’ve not come across before. With his other stories, there’s always a strong sense of “what next.” The scenarios he concocts are often complex and tension ridden. With this though, there was no real point. No end game. It’s more a collection of what he thinks about stuff.
Endearing, funny, clever, insightful in parts. But nothing to make you grab it and thirstily drink up a few pages, nothing to make you absolutely positively have to find out what happens. I wouldn’t dare go as far as to say it dragged (this is Wodehouse, after all) but the lack of urgency was an occasional but definite drawback.
Still huge amounts of fun though. Still something I loved. Still a writer that makes me feel wonderful to read.
Go read some Wodehouse. Now.
Next week, I may have to go back to reading something I don’t already love. I guess.