Bill Neenan reviews Roderick Easdale's The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse

Book review: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse 

Roderick Easdale, whose very name makes him sound as if he might be a lounging all-rounder-in-waiting at the Drones Club, has written a detailed and informative appreciation of PG Wodehouse, the writer and the man.

Charting the graph of Wodehouse’s life and its intersection with that of his work, Easdale deals with the most pressing issue first: the charge that in light of his infamous broadcasts during the Second World War, Wodehouse was either a traitor or a naive simpleton in the ways of the world.

He rejects either conclusion, contending instead that that Wodehouse was in fact perhaps too clever for his own good and that he did himself great harm by forgetting tendencies in human nature and politics that he previously had clearly demonstrated in his writing that he understood. It is a cogent argument.

That considered, he moves on to the more salubrious areas of Wodehouse’s experiences at home and at school, at work and in journalism in England and America, and how they manifest themselves in his later fiction. He may in some cases be accused of finding examples in Wodehouse’s work to prove the point he is making, but this would be a minor quibble. The examples are there and do very often demonstrate that the conventional wisdom concerning Wodehouse is more conventional than wise.

And throughout the book the characters of this comic literary genius shine through. Psmith and Mulliner, Uncle Fred and the Drones, Bertie Wooster and the most famous of all, Jeeves. These and many more make their considerable presences felt, and in the process Easdale often finds an original angle with which to shatter stale, accepted perception. And throughout, he has wisely avoided both the dry scholastic approach and the more common nerve-rending mistake of making any attempt to imitate the writing style of his subject. Agree or not with its conclusions, the book is compelling in the points of view it espouses.

I think that The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse may not please strict academicians, the abominable aunts of the literary world. But if, like me, you have read and appreciated Wodehouse, marvelled at his endless cheerful inventiveness, laughed out loud when going back to something read and re-read many times before and been perplexed by the sometimes hateful vitriol directed at both the man and his works, this book will do very nicely as an insightful guide to the attitudes that Wodehouse attracted and a pleasurable reminder of the wonderful world that he interpreted.

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