Something Fresh, by P.G. Wodehouse
There is something intimate and familiar about this book, which ought not to be a surprise since I am particularly fond of the writings of the author . It is remarkable, though, the extent to which this novel sets up several different sagas of the writer. The most obvious one, of course, is the Blandings Castle saga, where the absent-mindedness of Lord Emsworth, the general shadiness of the efficient Baxter, the general ne’er-do-well quality of his younger son Freddie Threepwood, and the way that the castle itself attracts impostors of one type or another show themselves here for the first time and definitely not for the last. In addition to that, though, there are references to Algernon Wooster, and that puts the reader in mind to the Wooster & Jeeves series, which is also a worthwhile series and well worth enjoying. Wodehouse may not have intended writing a saga when he wrote this novel, but having written such a wonderful story, and having it be such a success, it was good that he returned to this world over and over again with great comic effect, to the extent that it remains an inspiration for readers as well as viewers of various British efforts to put the stories on the screen.
The plot of this story is not too surprising when one looks at the body of work of the author as a whole. We have absent-minded Lord Emsworth absent-mindedly pocketing a priceless scarab and a massive cast of characters who want to pilfer the scarab back in order to collect the large reward being offered by the unsavory Mr. Peters, whose daughter is engaged to the indolent and not particularly bright Freddie Threepwood, at least until that young woman elopes with another gentleman to his abundant and surprising relief. The novel itself contains another fortunate couple that spring together through some chance encounters and some remarkable similarities and mutual respect, while the novel itself contains some sparkling discussion of the immense complexities of servant life, which are well-drawn here in a way that demonstrates considerable knowledge of matters that most people would not be aware of, at least not without having watched Below Stairs or something of that nature. The combination of a crackling plot and some immensely enjoyable characters make this a novel that was well worth starting a famous series.
It is perhaps somewhat ironic, therefore, that this novel would seem like something fresh the less familiar one is with the work of Wodehouse as a whole. If this is one’s first encounter with Wodehouse, it does come off as something fresh, with the author’s skill with words and a lovable group of rascals and eccentrics at its core, as well as his skill in writing about the lives and ways of servants and the travails of being an underpaid writer, something that is all too easy to relate to for many people. Yet if this novel is read after having read a great deal of Wodehouse’s work, it is not nearly as fresh, but is rather a book that is still worthy of being enjoyed, not least from the point of view of understanding how the Blandings Saga began. If you like British comic fiction, this is the sort of novel that bears close study, not only as it makes for enjoyable and somewhat madcap reading, but also because it gives an idea of how one can write good comic fiction by writing about what one knows and having a great deal of wit in one’s dialogue. Wodehouse would make a career out of writing long series based on compelling and odd characters, and quite a few of them make their debut here to good effect.
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