A wise man once said, or should have said in his infinite wisdom, that the only true cure to feeling down is to pick up a Wodehouse and read it cover to cover. If that doesn’t sort the problem right out, the trick is to pick up another Wodehouse, and repeat the blasted exercise. If at the end of it all, you aren’t smiling from ear to ear, please do enjoy the heavens when you reach there.
From this first passage, you must be well aware that I am something of a Wodehouse fanboy. You will also realize, as you go along, that this isn’t as much of a review as it is a tribute to the only man on earth (you’ll see at the end why I refer to him in an inappropriate tense) I am jealous of. P.G. Wodehouse, in my opinion, is the finest writer English has ever had the honor of hosting in its hall of greatness.
The reasons I have for making a statement so dramatic, something Wodehouse himself would look upon sternly and with an eye which Aunts in his world are prone to giving erring nephews, are sound and based on fact. You see, he is a simple writer. There are no deep metaphors running through his stories. There are no life-changing chapters which would forever alter how you perceive the world. There is no crying involved (unless, of course, there is a song sung in the most toneless of voices and in the most public of arenas a la Sonny Boy) that would cleanse your soul thoroughly. But, when you read what the man has put down on paper, in some of the most beautiful language, adorned by some of the most gorgeous words existing in that language and all ordered in a way which would hitherto seem impossible to mere mortals, you realize, instinctively, that this is the most complex of authors and what you’re reading as a simple, fast-paced tale of unfortunate events and comedic errors, is one of the most difficult things to conceive.
The strength of Wodehouse lies more in the language than the plot. I must remember, at this point, that I am reviewing a book and not an author, but it becomes very difficult to separate any single piece of work that Wodehouse has put out from the expansive and utterly mind-blowing body of art that he amassed. Uncle Fred in the Springtime is no exception. It occupies the same pantheon of superlative literature as any Jeeves story you may pick or the choicest of Blandings tales that you may challenge it with or even the most subtle of Psmith (the P is silent) escapades that you may recall. The language is the literal equivalent of that seven food gourmet meal cooked by Anatole and looked forward to by the best men in England. It is delicious. And you can never have enough of it. Eloquent words stringed together into elegant phrases all coming together to form the most mouth-watering chapter you would have the pleasure of consuming is how I would describe this book (and indeed, most of Wodehouse’s books) and still fall short of what I truly want to express.
The most difficult achievement for any author is to inspire emotion in his readers. The great authors instill us with fear, thrill, sorrow, grief and in the rare cases, with relief. But only those gifted above all else can bring a smile to those who read their words and perhaps, if they’re lucky, an occasional chuckle at an especially clever play of words. Wodehouse, then, must be truly blessed, because he has the pleasure of inducing in his audience a steady stream of laughter which cannot be held in, even in the most polite of societies. That is his crowning achievement. That he can play with words at whim and mould them to his will only shows the mastery he enjoys over the language and we can only thank him that he has employed this mastery to make us laugh (the other author of such absolute greatness chose to give us tragedies aplenty).
The language, though blinding in it’s obvious greatness, is not all that makes Wodehouse so enduring. I feel that while the language is his sword, his skill of world-building and plot-building are his subtle daggers, always working silently and killing without anyone realizing it. Uncle Fred in the Springtime is possibly the best testament to this. For a comedy story, the tale is so layered and ridden with multiple characters posing as multiple other characters, that the reader is bound to get his head fogged up and find himself in desperate need of a good ol’ Game of Thrones book, which he would no doubt find much simpler to comprehend. The number of plotlines and characters in this book are truly mind-boggling. The story is so fast and full of suspense that it would give Sidney Sheldon a run for his money, if it came to that. That it is set in Blandings, a world which each of us wish we were born into, with all its many characters, idyllic lifestyle, stiff butlers, discerning secretaries and characters constantly falling in and out of love, often with hilarious missteps along the way, makes it all the more jarring for the reader to keep abreast of the latest developments, while simultaneously trying to hold back laughter lest it disturb the rest of the class. That Wodehouse manages to not only take all these diverse plotlines and tie them into a neat, happy bow at the end of the rollercoaster are a testament to his skill with the daggers in addition to his glory with the sword (as if creation of characters like Jeeves, Spode, Wooster, Emsworth, Galahead, Psmith, Ukridge etc. etc. etc. weren’t enough Exhibits to prove this point in any court of law). That all of the stories have a happy ending, perhaps with two lovers reuniting after a series of misunderstandings or the eternal bachelors saved from the doom of marriage through wise intervention by a butler or a benevolent uncle, is no coincidence. There is no place, as Stephen Fry once wrote, for grief in the world of Wodehouse.
This hasn’t been much of a book review, I realize. But like any reader worth his salt, I wholeheartedly recommend this book (and indeed, most other Wodehouse books) to anyone in need of a little pick-me-up or even anyone who has spent far too much time reading the deepest of books and getting lost in their own minds. Those are the books which are easy to recognize as great. They are the ones which will survive through ages, always giving something new to each generation.
But Wodehouse is a different animal playing a different game. Other authors survive the generations through their books. Wodehouse’s books will survive the generations through him. He is the one who will lend them immortality.
He won’t give every generation something new. He will give each generation the exact same thing he gave every other. He will give them a work of absolute genius disguised in the form a light-hearted comedy, putting a smile on every person, across space and time, capable of appreciating the English language, a hearty chuckle and a lasting smile.
That’s true genius. And that’s enough.