by Sebastian Faulks
London: Hutchinson, 2013.
I’ve been on rather a run of “in the style of” books lately. I don’t know that I’ve ever read much “fan fiction.” There was one, very terrible continuation of Pride and Prejudice that follows Elizabeth and Darcy into marriage. I read that and swore I’d never go down that road again.
Val McDermid’s rewriting of Northanger Abbey was so clever, and Jo Baker’s alternate view of life below stairs in Pride and Prejudice was so compelling, though, that I am less and less afraid of venturing into fan fiction territory again.
And really, let’s face it, there was never any question as to whether I would read a (contemporary) homage to P.G. Wodehouse, which is what Sebastian Faulks prefers to call his Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.
The novel begins with a role reversal: Bertie Wooster is Bunburying again, in this case, pretending to be valet to Jeeve’s Lord Etringham. This, in itself, is a wonderful plot idea: to make the gentleman and gentleman’s gentleman relationship a bit more appealing to contemporary readers by putting Bertie below stairs, or on an uncomfortable bed up in the attic, as the case may be. The story that follows is a fun and diverting read, true to the spirit of Wodehouse, if never quite measuring up to his ability to provoke belly laughs.
It is no insult to say that my favourite bit of the book was Faulks’s introduction, where he explains that the novel was written in order to introduce Wodehouse to a younger readership:
To the old hands, meanwhile, I would say only this; that yes, I did understand the size of what I had taken on; and yes it was as hard as I expected. Wodehouse’s prose is a glorious thing; and there’s the rub. I didn’t want to write too close an imitation of that distinctive music for fear of sounding flat or sharp. Nor did I want to drift into parody. What I therefore tried to do was give people who haven’t read the Jeeves books a sense of what they sound like; while for those who know them well I tried to provide a nostalgic variation–in which a memory of the real thing provides the tune and these pages perhaps a line of harmony.
The novel does not betray his struggle; it does provide the sought-for line of harmony. If I have anything with which to quarrel it is that there is too little of Jeeves, but then, I suspect, that is precisely the point. Send the people back to the original for more.