Meet Mr. Mulliner, by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Jonathan Cecil
This book is a collection of nine short stories that share a few qualities. All of the stories are frame stories set in the Angler’s Rest pub told by one Mr. Mulliner about his improbable group of relatives. As someone who is very fond of reading the novels of P.G. Wodehouse , these are amusing and entertaining stories. What is remarkable to me at least is how true to life these stories appear to me. If you’ve ever been caught at a moment when you can’t listen to someone tell lengthy but generally entertaining tales, you likely have had the sort of experiences that the implied audience of this story has. It is also somewhat remarkable that this book holds together as well as it does. Wodehouse may be best remembered today for his Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle novels and stories–and those are definitely well worth remembering–but this book is a reminder that the author was capable of more than discussions of eccentric rich people who didn’t want to be married, although there can certainly be found that sort of story as well, at least in part.
In terms of its structure, this book is a loose collection of nine short stories that are told with the same narrator, Mr. Mulliner. The stories generally have a similar frame setup–there is some sort of conversation at the pub, and Mr. Mulliner finds a way to inset into the conversation some sort of lengthy story about one of his innumerable amounts of relatives. The nine stories are a mixture of good to great stories. They begin with an entertaining story about one George Mulliner, a man with a stammering problem like that seen in the King’s Speech, whose efforts at curing his speech impediment lead him to be chased around the countryside by a mob with pitchforks and into marriage with a fellow fan of crossword puzzles. Other standout stories revolve around the inventions of a Mullilner inventor famous for his tanning cream as well as his Buck-U-Uppo, which leads to the rapid promotion of a timid curate in love with his bossy boss’ comely daughter and into the service of a tolerant Anglican bishop. Still other stories deal with the arrival of the Mulliner clan into Hollywood thanks to an ability to project emotion despite having a terrible day and the way a Mulliner got married thanks to the San Francisco earthquake that tweaks the sensitivities of Californians in denying the earthquake-prone nature of their homeland. Throughout the stories are entertaining even if they are somewhat improbable, and even the lesser stories here have a certain charm about them.
If you are a fan of the Wodehouse novels and stories in general, these stories are definitely worthwhile ones that show his ability to work stories into a larger narrative in a way that is seldom seen nowadays, except by such storytellers as McMaster Bujold in her Vorkosigan saga. And, best yet, if you enjoy this set of frame stories there are plenty more stories in the series to enjoy, and two more full books full of them. I think, personally, that I will be looking for these stories as well, for they speak of concerns in a way that is lighthearted but also somewhat serious. These stories are about people trying to make their way in the world and either find or avoid marriage–both of which are pretty common tendencies in our own lives. The frame device reminds us that these stories are of a kind that is quite common–and certainly I may be thought of as somewhat of a raconteur myself of the same kind of long and perhaps improbable stories that are told here to such good effect. It ought to be easiest for us to appreciate other people like ourselves, for if we cannot appreciate those like ourselves, who can be expected to appreciate us?
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