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Jeeves And The Wedding Bells


In The World of Fan-Fiction
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, February 7, 2014 14:08
Tags : Jeeves And The Wedding Bells | Sebastian Faulks |

PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably the most celebrated characters of 20th century English literature. In the six decades that they jointly entertained generations of readers, they did not show any sign of ageing. Their exploits were so refreshing even after six decades that when their last escapade, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, was published shortly before the death of Wodehouse, it broke all the existing records of sale.

So what made them click? There are a range of explanations. In the era that saw two World Wars and many more during the Cold War, his characters remained untouched with what was happening around. In that respect, Jeeves and Bertie were no different from their creator. So, when you open a Jeeves & Bertie novel to read, you are certain that nothing horrendous will happen. In fact, if anything bad happens, it is bound to be rectified by the end of the novel. It is because of this confidence that an average reader, marred by the rigours of daily life, resort to Wodehouse. No one celebrated escapism like he did. And he managed to do it because he was an escapist himself.

So when the famous British novelist Sebastian Faulks decided to write a fan-fiction on Jeeves and Bertie, quite a few eyebrows were raised. Can he pull it off? Can he avoid gimmicky? Thousands of questions got raised. Faulks had just finished writing the next instalment of the James Bond series, Devil May Care, and had received the rare combination of accolades and bumper sales. He was high on success, and consequently, spirit.

So when Jeeves and the Weeding Bells came out, some of the questions were answered by Faulks himself. While he was worried that his work may fall “too lamentably short of the mark”, he was also very clear that he was neither trying to copy Wodehouse nor was he writing a spoof. He ended up doing both. But that does not make it a bad book.

Faulks stays honest with the set pieces to start with. So there is Jeeves, there is Bertie, there is a country house, there is something to purloin and then the quintessential hare-brained plan to go about it. Bertie’s friend has taken a liking for a girl and it has fallen to Bertie to bring the two aching heart together. Only this time, the plan involves Jeeves and Bertie exchanging their hats. So for now Jeeves has to act the part of a peer called Lord Etringham, who tries to win favours from his bad-tempered host by suggesting him tips on stud race. Bertie, on the other hand has to act as a valet, or as Jeeves has put it several times in the past, “a gentleman’s personal gentleman.”

Faulks has remained honest to the language for the most part. But there are places where it appears tad laboured. Wodehouse and Bertie belonged to same era and social class. The language came naturally to Wodehouse. The same cannot be said about Faulks. Take for example this paragraph. While on the face of it, it does appear appealing and in every way Wodehouseque, so to speak; but scratch it a bit and the effort looks laboured.

“It’s funny how quickly one gets used to certain things in life. At Eton we had been compelled, on pain of six of the juiciest, to keep a keen eye on our kit and know at all times where the socks (gray, six pairs) and footer bags (navy blue, two pairs) were to be found. The services of Tucker, my accommodating scout at Oxford, however, and several years of Jeeves’s care had left me rather vague in such matters. To say it was something of a trial to dress myself in the uniform of a gentleman’s personal gentleman would be an understatement. Although the dawn chorus was tweeting away like nobody’s business outside the window, it was still pretty murky in the back bedroom, and the insertion of stud into collar requires a strong light and a degree of confidence.”

But it is not to say that the book lacks merit altogether. On its own, the book is quite funny. The sections dealing with the usual dialogues between Jeeves and Bertie are a breeze. Faulks has also been smart enough leave some of the marvellous lines to Bertie.

Sample this. While describing the patrons of a local bar in the countryside, he says, “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.” This is worth all the money you spent on this book. Isn’t it?

Faulks tribute to Wodehouse should be treated as such. Any more expectations and you are bound to feel let down. But if you strictly read it as a fan-fiction, it will come out as a remarkable piece of literature.

Author: Sebastian Faulks

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-0-091-95405-5

Pages: 272

Price: Rs. Rs 599

Publisher: Random House

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017