Review: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

January 28, 2014
Author: Sebastian Faulks
Publisher: Hutchinson
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9780091954048
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Author Sebastian Faulks pays tribute to P.G. Wodehouse with this book, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. However, questions abound- will it match up to the original? Or will it be doomed to live in Wodehouse’s enormous shadow? Will we see the same loveable idiot and cunning mastermind? Read on for the answers.

The first time you pick up this book, it is hard to not wince in apprehension. Wooster and Jeeves are characters generations of readers have loved and laughed with and Sebastian Faulks’ attempt to write a sequel for them, almost forty years since the last book, has been welcomed with some trepidation. P.G. Wodehouse has never been an easy author to emulate- his gentle humour and his mastery of the English language being things of magic and marvel- and Faulks has chosen his most famous characters for his pastiche, not a task with which to endear himself.

Surprisingly, Faulks does quite well for himself.

The plot, as most Wodehouse-ian plots go, is a sufficiently convoluted one with Bertie and Jeeves, for the first time, having switched roles during a visit to a country house. Love abounds merrily, secret identities creep up at the drop of a hat and Faulks nails it merrily with an almost exact imitation of the Wodehouse-ian style. In a case of mistaken identities, Jeeves impersonates the introverted Lord Etringham with Wooster as his gentleman’s personal gentleman while Wooster struggles with his feelings for a girl engaged to someone else. Meanwhile, typical Wodehouse’s scenes of cricket matches and village fetes occur, mostly to bring torn hearts asunder.

However, the staunch Wodehouse-ian fan will not easily be impressed by the book. Faulks, while true to Wodehouse’s style, fails to imitate his charm. The title of the book hints at a happy ending most faithful readers will balk at in disappointment. There are also the minor deviations from his style with some uncharacteristic mentions of the toll of war and debates on suffrage which give the book some grim moments. Wodehouse was known for his idyllic setting which he used to escape his own dark moments, bringing his readers along for the ride. The grim moments harm the book’s gentle environment and irrevocably ruin the hint of a utopia riddled with aunts. Faulks also fails to completely understand the characters. Bertie seems to be inordinately intelligent and Jeeves remains missing from most of the action and the book suffers from the lack of his efficient background manipulation.

Faulks, however, is a clever writer and he has written a funny book.  Sample this line: “The Red Lion was a four-ale bar with a handful of low-browed sons of toil who looked as though they might be related to one another in ways frowned on by the Old Testament.” The humour remains consistent, clever and never underestimates the intelligence of the audience. The new character of Mrs. Tilman and guest appearances by some old favourites are a further delight. As Faulks modestly puts in his author’s note, the books works wonderfully as an affectionate tribute by a man who knows his Wodehouse well and will be appreciated by any Wodehouse fan. However, as the note also includes, as “a new novel … to bring the characters of Jeeves and Bertie to a younger readership”, the novel is not quite a success and new readers will be luckier to open a copy of Joy in the Morning or Right Ho, Jeeves as their first introduction to Wodehouse.

Verdict: A funny, though uneven, novel better read as a homage to Wodehouse than a sequel to the official canon of Jeeves and Bertie. Though not a beloved addition, the book will be best enjoyed by fans of Wodehouse than readers completely new to him.

For more Wodehouse, check out our list of Top 10 P.G. Wodehouse novels, and our review of Very Good, Jeeves

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