Category Archives: Book Reviews

long long overdue review: “Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical”

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Title: Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical

Author: Rob Shearman

Pub: Big Finish, 2009

Genre: Short Stories/ Novellas

Awards Won: Shirley Jackson Awards, Edge Hill Short Story Readers Prize,  2010 British Fantasy Awards

 The first thing you should know about this book is that it’s exactly what a short story collection should be– rather like expensive chocolate truffles.  The best way to enjoy is to slowly nibble just one at a time, savoring the flavors  and the artistry.  Then, put the book down.  Wander off, cook, feed the cat, mail the letters, or do the laundry.  As you do, the memory of the story, the ethereal taste, will ghost just along with you.  Then, sometime later… an hour, a day, just as the flavor fades… you’ll come back and taste another– different from the first and yet just as exquisite.

The second thing you should know about this book is that it’s apparently impossible to review it without resorting to lyricism.   

Shearman’s narrative style is deceptively straight-forward.  No flowery flights of language.  He creates a world in just a few deft strokes, that we completely recognize as our own–

–just to pick one, the opening of ‘Your Long, Loving Arms’ introduces us to Steve: “In the end, it was the afternoons that were killing him.  The evenings were fine.  The evenings, he could cope with.  He wasn’t working in the evenings, it was true, but that was okay, lots of people didn’t work in the evenings. He’d play with Ben a bit, like a normal dad, might read him a bedtime story if Ben fancied it. Like a normal dad, and in a normal family too, he’d cuddle up with Cheryl on the sofa and they’d watch a spot of telly, and at last Cheryl would say that she’d best go to bed, she had to be up early in the morning. And he’d go with her, though he didn’t have to be up early, not any more” (87).   Simple enough, right?  and heart-breakingly recognizable in these days of unemployment and redundancy–

— then Shearman slips our world just a little bit sideways with a word, but ever so gently that it seems the only natural way to be.  So, our Steve, in an attempt to stem the tide of those lengthening afternoons, enlists in the Tree Scheme: “It was funny– after an hour or so you didn’t feel the stiffness in your arms.  First they numbed, then felt like something detached from the body altogether.  And when the breeze fluttered his leaves, Steve thrilled to it– the wind just teasing them, they didn’t seem so much blown about as stroked” (92).  You need to read it now, don’t you?

Hence why, though his stories are often nominated for Fantasy and Horror awards, they’re not really either, in the traditional sense– but in the sense that we are amazed and terrified by ourselves, reflected back in one of those mirrors where it’s just twisted enough that you recognize a stranger’s face in your own.  Plus, what the labels tend to set aside is the humor woven deftly into the fabric of these stories.  Not the burst into laugher in public kind– though you might, as I did, get asked what you’re grinning about, which you will find yourself utterly unable to describe– but that kind of communal recognition that life is a funny old thing, after all, but it’s ours.

Sitting here, writing this and flipping through the book to find my favorite to tell you about, I keep finding one favorite and then another and then another, but all for different reasons.  Each story’s narrator is unique and both exactly like someone you know and completely unlike anyone else at all–some through the delicacy of third person [including “Love Among the Lobelias,” “Roadkill,” and “Love in a Time of Sharing”] and some through the intimacy of first [including “Not About Love,” “Be of Good Cheer,” “14.2,” and “At the Crease”].  Tenderness, shyness, loss, loneliness, hope, cynicism, yes, and longing too– the stories are about love, after all.  And, along the way, perhaps just a tinge of that fear of love gone a bit (well more than a bit really, a very very lot) wrong, there’s “George Clooney’s Mustache.” 

The third thing you should know about this book is that picking a favorite story is too hard.

Go on then.  Here you are: http://www.bigfinish.com/ranges/love-songs-for-the-shy-and-cynical

Hi, Hannah

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Title: Birth Marks

Author: Sarah Dunant

Published: 1992

Series: The Hannah Wolfe Crime Novels

Summary: Hannah, back in London, is hired to find a missing ballet dancer, Carolyn Hamilton.  When Carolyn is found dead only days after, under the assumption of suicide, Hannah is asked to find out why.    What she uncovers, layer by layer, is a truth that reveals more about herself than she was looking for.

This book was lent to me, highly recommended, by a friend [thank you, Lisa!] who knows my love of mysteries, and my general Anglophilia, so I eagerly began reading it nearly as soon as it was in my hands.  I was hooked after the opening paragraph:

Mistake number one: I should never have sublet the flat.  Mistake number two was letting myself be taken in by appearances.  With a job like mine, you’d think I would have learnt by now.  But she had seemed such a shrinking violet, an anthroplogy student with so many religous books that she was clearly having trouble with Darwin.  Obviously somewhere over the last three months the evolutionists had struck back.  The kitchen smelt as if a dinosaur had died there and the bed looked as though it had been used to test out the survival of the fittest theory.  Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll   It had all happened here.  And I hadn’t had any of them.  Ah, these young people.  As a woman on the wrong side of thirty I could feel disapproval coming on.[1]

Hannah Wolfe’s strong narrative presence is a constant throughout the novel.  She was the reason I kept reading, as her desire to know the truth about the dead dancer fueled the narrative onward.  Hannah’s a professional private eye, and a darn good one.  After reading long series of cozy mysteries where the “detective’s” involvement must be contrived, it was utterly refreshing to have Hannah investigating because it was her job.  Hannah rather reluctantly takes the case because she needs the money and because it’s the better of several rather dreary alternatives.   

Also making a nice change is that Dunant’s novel is peopled with three-dimensional characters, who don’t exist soley to drop the detective a clue.  These characters’ lives continue on while Hannah is not around, and when we revisit them, events in which we’ve played little or no part have altered their willingness to discuss Carolyn’s life. Hannah’s connection to the case grows while she slowly attempts to bring the thusly divergent pictures of the lost Carolyn into focus.  And yes, I am attempting to review this without given away any of the clues that Dunant went to such effort to skillfully scatter throughout her pages.

Being a single woman on “the wrong side of thirty,” Hannah also finds herself particularly vulnerable to the choices that various characters, particularly Carolyn, have made about motherhood– leading us into the central theme of the novel.  This is where Dunant gives herself away as a serious novelist [which she has now become], rather than simply a weaver of mysteries. Hannah’s narration becomes replete with womb imagery (a little heavy-handed, frankly) and her scrutiny of Carolyn’s life and death become a reflection upon her own life’s choices.  Certainly, I think, most women can relate, at least in part, to Hannah’s conflicted thoughts about the single, career-driven, independent life she has (and enjoys) and the children/ marriage/ domestic life she both admires and fears.  However, the existential angst with which Dunant wraps this internal narration had me checking the copyright date.  Yup, I confirmed to myself, 1992 sounds about right– and it also explains some of the ‘decadant eighties big business’ overtones.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed Dunant and Hannah, and will be eagerly adding the other two novels in the series, “Under My Skin” and “Fatlands” to my TBR list.

Sarah Dunant’s official website: http://www.sarahdunant.com/

repost: review of “The Shortest Way to Hades”

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Title: The Shortest Way to Hades

Author: Sarah Caudwell

Series: the Hilary Tamar mysteries

Summary: A group of young London barristers, along with their former tutor Tamar, set out to investigate the suspicious death (deaths?) of one of their clients.  Half of the story happens in London, while the other half is in Corfu, Greece.

Once again, a fabulous and unique narrator.  Hilary Tamar is carefully written with intellectual language, elegant sentences, and a complete ambiguity about gender.  All of the other characters are clearly men or women, but Hilary is deliberately never defined.  Oh, there are clues, of course, but just when you think you have Hilary nailed down, something else slips in– and your ideas fold away.  People who review this book, like I am, often make a big deal about this, as it is so unusual, but I think the point that Caudwell is trying to make is that it doesn’t really matter to the story, so why include it?  And, she has a point. 

Ok, remember what I said a few posts ago about not like Literature ?  Well, I do like feeling smart about literature, I just don’t care, particularly, for reading it in my spare time.  The beautiful thing about Hilary, Cantrip, Selena, Timothy, Ragwort, and Julia is that they feel like an exclusive, academic club to which you, the reader, are also invited– meanwhile, you’re reading a mystery book.  I admit, I had to go back to my old copy of “The Odyssey” for a few of the more obscure references, but that’s what makes this worth the read– that plot elements of classical Greek literature play an essential part in the plot of the story.  Speaking of plotting– Caudwell’s plot construction is so tight, you don’t even realize what she’s done until the very end when every piece falls neatly into place.  If you don’t know your “Odyssey,” though, don’t worry.  The relevant passages are made clear enough without background reading.  Also, Caudwell thankfully DOES include a family tree at the front of the novel to help the poor reader keep track of the various members of the Jocasta clan.

Now, onto the dialogue, which is my favorite thing about this book & this entire series.  Each character speaks with a lovely, high-lettered way.  Other reviews have called their tone “ironic,” but I feel it is more Wodehousian– calling it irony takes away from the beautiful playfulness of the novel.  The interplay of each character’s speaking style, along with the “come on, gang!” element makes it feel like a more serious version of one of his best novels.  I actually read most of the dialogue aloud, just because it was fun to say. Cantrip’s speeches, in particular, stand out.  It’s a pity that Caudwell only wrote the 4 books in this series, a bit of short story, and one play.  We won’t get any more, either, because she died 9 years ago.  (I know, she was busy being a tax barrister and all, but it’s a shame).  For example, Hilary doesn’t want to grade final exam essays (I know the feeling).  She explains this as follows: “The suggestion had been made by some of my colleagues that I should participate in the marking of the summer examinations which in Oxford we refer to as Schools.  Much as I was honored by the proposal, I had felt obliged to decline: who am I to sit in judgement on the young?  Moreover, the marking of examination scripts is among the most tedious of occupations.  I had accordingly explained that the demands of Scholarship– that is to say, of my researches into the concept of causa in the early Common Law– precluded any other commitment of my time and energies.”  Now, don’t you wish you would write that way when turning down an assignment at work?

Overall: Anglophiles– you’ll love this series.  Nicely, too, you don’t have to read them in order. 

For more see below:

http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=4521

repost: review of 84, Charing Cross Road

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Title: 84, Charing Cross Road

Author: Helene Hanff

Series: She wrote a follow-up book called “The Duchess of Boomsbury Street.”

Pub: 1970

Randomly interesting thing: Helene Hanff wrote many scripts for “Ellery Queen” on television.

Summary: The book contains Helene’s correspondance with the booksellers of Marks & Co (especially Frank Doel) between 1949 and 1969. 

Oh, but it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?!  I’m not going to do a sensible review here because I just can’t.  Instead, I’m simply going to tell you how much I love this book.  My only complaint is that there are letters left out, and I want more!  I reread it once a year or so, and I really wish I could own a copy of this book as beautifully-bound as some of the tomes she describes.  Instead, I make do with a rubbish-looking Book Club edition from the library– but the words it holds, oh my. 

84, Charing Cross Road contains so many of my passions: really beautifully bound books, good literature, well-written letters (a dead art, really), and England.  As Helene and Frank become friends, their letters become more about their lives and their families, which gives us a lovely glimpse back in time.  I don’t know about you, but 1949 might as well be a different world for me.  When Helene first begins writing, looking to buy a few out-of-print books, England is still under severe rationing (can you imagine?), and the dollar to the pound exchange rate must have been something truly spectacular– at one point, she is offered a 100-year-0ld first edition for $6!  Frank’s England is also one of tiny, dusty bookshops with tall shelves and twisting ladders where beautiful, classical books wait to be discovered .  How gorgeous!

the Marks & Co shop at 84, Charing Cross Road-- sadly, they have long been out of business.  the Marks & Co shop at 84, Charing Cross Road– sadly, they have long been out of business.

 

Yes, there is a movie.  No, it’s not as good (despite having Judi Dench, Anne Bancroft, and Anthony Hopkins in it); how could it be?  The whole point of the book is their letters, which can’t be replicated in film-form.  There were also, according to wiki, radio plays.  These I have not heard.

Here, for just a taste, is one of my favorite letters from Helene to Frank:

sunday night and a hell of a way to start 1960

i don’t know, frankie–

Somebody gave me this book for Christmas.  It’s a Giant Modern Library book.  Did you ever see one of those?  It’s less attractively bound than the Proceedings of the New York State Assembly and it weighs more.  It was given to me by a gent who knows I’m fond of John Donne.  The title of this book is:

The Complete Poetry

&

Selected Prose

of

JOHN DONNE

&

The Complete Poetry

of

WILLIAM BLAKE?

The question mark is mine.  Will you please tell me what those two boys have in common?– except that they were both English and they both Wrote?  I tried reading the Introduction figuring that might explain it.  The Introduction is in four parts.  Parts I and II include a Professor’s life of Donne mit-illustrations-from-the-author’s-works-also-criticism.  Part III begins– and God knows I quote–:

     When as a little boy, William Blake saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree amid a summer field, he was soundly trounced by his mother.

I’m with his mother.  I mean, the back of the Lord God or the face of the Virgin Mary, all right– but why the hell would anybody want to see the prophet Ezekiel?

I don’t like Blake anyway, he swoons too much, it’s Donne I’m writing about, I’m being driven clear up the wall, Frankie, you have GOT to help me.

Here I was, curled up in my armchair so at peace with the world, with something old and serene on the radio– Corelli or somebody– and this thing on the table.  This Giant Modern Library thing.  So I thought:

     “I will read the three standard passages from Sermon XV aloud,”  You have to read Donne aloud, it’s like a Bach fugue. 

Would you like to know what I went through in an innocent attempt to read three contiguous uncut passages from Sermon XV aloud?

You start with the Giant Modern Library version, you locate Sermon XV and there they are: Excerpts I, II, and III,– only when you get to the end of Excerpt I you discover they have deleted Jezebel off it.  So you get down Donne’s Sermons, Selected Passages (Logan Pearsall Smith) where you spend twenty minutes locating Sermons XV, Excerpt I, because by Logan Pearsall Smith it isn’t Sermon XV, Excerpt I, it’s Passage 126. All Must Die.  Now that you’ve found it, you find he also deleted Jezebel so you get down the Complete Poetry & Selected Prose (Nonesuch Press) but they didn’t happen to select Jezebel either, so you get down the Oxford Book of English Prose where you spend another twenty minutes locating it because in the Oxford English Prose it isn’t Sermon XV, Excerpt I nor yet 126. All Must Die, it’s Passage 113. Death the Leveller.  Jezebel is there, and you read it aloud but when you get to the end you find it doesn’t have either Excerpt II or III so you have to switch to one of the other three books provided you had the wit to leave all three open at the right pages which I didn’t.

So, break it to me gently: how hard is it going to be to find me John Donne’s Complete Sermons and how much is it going to cost?

i am going to bed.  i will have hideous nightmares involving huge monsters in academic robes carrying long bloody butcher knives labelled Excerpt, Selection, Passage and Abridged,

      yrs,

h.ffffffffffffff

Do you see why this is a brilliant book and why you need to own it immediately?  Go.  Go straight to your independent bookstore (or B & N if you must) and buy it now.  You may thank me later.  After you have read it, come back and tell me your favorite bits.

p.s.  and have a box of tissues ready for the end, all right?

a sweet treat of a novel

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hi, ya’ll!  This was the last book I read during the summer, and the tiny bit of the review I wrote has been sitting here in the draft box and taunting me for weeks to finish it– so here it finally is!

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Author: Alan Bradley

Pub date: 2009

Series: (the bio at the end of the book promises a sequel)

Summary: In the summer of 1950, Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old chemist (specializing in poisons), is living in her expansive but crumbling ancestral home out in the English countryside.  One afternoon, a dead rook with a stamp on its beak is found on the kitchen doorstep.  By the end of the week, there is a dead man in the cucumber patch, her father has been arrested for murder, and Flavia has taken up the job of solving the mystery in her own inemitable way.

What first attracted me to this novel was its perfect size and cover.  It’s just the right size, as a hardback with nice rounded edges, to fit in a purse or a coat pocket.  The cover art is simple but intriguing, and it contains an essential clue to the story’s plot.  (No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.)  It’s also long enough that I couldn’t finish it in one sitting, but it was still a fairly quick read.  Towards the end, I actually slowed myself down to savor it, as the sequel is not yet available, and I wanted to spend more time with Flavia.

Speaking of the heroine/ detective Flavia…I don’t know how Alan Bradley did it, but he somehow went back in time, read my eleven-year-old mind, and then created just the sort of girl I really, really wanted to be!  She rides her bike everywhere, lives in a sprawling, crumbling mansion, is clever, solves mysteries, and is a chemistry prodigy (ok, that last part I didn’t dream about).  She’s a delight to read about, and precocious in just the right amount of way.  I didn’t get sick of her or find her too adult-like, as is often the case with child-heroes.  Spot on, Mr. Bradley!

The mystery itself is quite good, if a bit wrapped up in esoterica, but Bradley gives the reader all of the information they need in simple and natural pieces.  I like learning things from mystery novels, as I’ve said before, and here I learned a bit about rare stamps and British history.  Unlike some authors whose early books contained lessons which are really unnecessary to the plot (yes, Kathy Reichs, I’m talking to you.  You’ve improved now, though, so good job), all of the little lessons here are crucial to the reader’s understanding of the plot– even when they don’t seem to be.  So, pay attention, ladies and gentlemen.

Bradley clearly won the Dagger Award for a reason with this novel.  It’s a good ‘un. 

 

For more, check out the website below:

http://www.flaviadeluce.com/

a beginner’s guide to Douglas Adams

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 Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who …

You know that favorite thing you have– the one that you are zealously delighted to introduce to everyone around you?  That one that you can’t remember not loving?  That one that you quote from pretty constantly and crack in-jokes about with the two other people you know who are as nutty about it as you are?

For me, that thing is Douglas Adams, and I know I’m not alone. 

In fact, at this very moment, you may be sitting next to an Adams-addict.  One might be your teacher [Hi, kids.  See you all on the 24th]. One might live upstairs.   One might be your boss.  You are surrounded by Adams-addicts everyday.  How can you tell, you ask?  Do you need a magic decoder ring?  Is there a litmus test?  Do we all wear tee-shirts?

I want this.  I want this shirt.

 Here’s the test; are you ready?  Turn to any person you happen to meet, and simply ask him or her, “What is the meaning of life?”  If the answer comes back, “Forty-two,” then you, my friend, have found yourself an Adams-addict.

So he’s got a lot of fans.  Big deal– so does professional wrestling , and that’s just dumb [sorry, Jerry 😉 ] 

Well, do you remember when you first read Shakespeare and Greek mythology in high school, and then you started to see quotations and references to them everywhere?  Then you figured out that they had been there all along, but you’d never noticed, because you just didn’t know?  Adams is like that.   In fact, in science-fiction writing, there is such a thing as the “obligatory Hitchhiker’s reference.”  It appears in nearly every work of sci-fi written post-1980.  Go ahead– Google the phrase– you’ll see.

Why do we all love Douglas Adams so much?  Because the man looked at the world in an incredibly unique, intelligent, positive, and humorous way.  Then, he wrote it down. 

I could go on at length about his technique, perspective, and utterly original spirit, but I think that would spoil it for you.  Part of what draws Adams-addicts in is discovering for ourselves something new and precious every time we read his books, listen to his radio shows, watch his films, play his video games, use his towels [yes, you read that correctly– towels].

I’ll tell you how I got into Adams, but we have to go back a bit:  My father was in the Air Force in the mid-seventies, and he was stationed in England.  My mom, after their wedding, went to live with him.  Now, she didn’t have a car, didn’t know anyone, and had a husband who worked 24 hour shifts– so she spent a good deal of time listening to the radio and watching television.  She saw and enjoyed Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s on tv.  Flash forward to about 1992 or so.  We were all living in South Florida.  My sister and I were hooked on Sci-Fi Saturday Nights on our local PBS station [WXEL].  Hitchhiker’s came on.  My mom said, “Oh, I remember this.  It was funny.  Let’s watch it.” 

I distinctly remember sitting on the cool tile floor and leaning against the couch, as the three of us watched the mini-series.  Yes, it was super cheesy in many places, but gosh, it was brilliant!  Then, my sister and I discovered the books, then his other novels… and in college, I began reading his non-fiction.  “Last Chance to See” is a wonderfully powerful book.  I found copies of his radio play scripts, watched his Doctor Who episodes, read his obituary with a deep sense of loss, and now I love “The Salmon of Doubt,” a collection of all sorts of writing that his friends rescued from his hard drive.  I have a particular fondness for the audiobook, to which many of his closest friends contributed.Ask any Adams-addict, and he or she will have a similarly personal story about discovering the brilliance that is Douglas Adams.

So, I will leave you with just a few examples of why I love Adams:

“The ships hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don’t.” 

“Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, ‘We don’t demand solid facts!  What we demand is a total absence of solid facts.  I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!'”

 

“‘And I am Dr. Desiato’s bodyguard,’ it went, ‘and I am responsible for his body, and I am not responsible for yours, so take it away before it gets damaged.'”

“One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of acidentally becoming your own father or mother.  There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with.  There is no problem about changing the course of history– the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw.  All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.  The major problem is quite simply one of grammar…”

 

“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.”

“‘My name,’ said the mattress, ‘is Zem.  We could discuss the weather a little.’  Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.  ‘The dew,’ he observed, ‘has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning.'”

 

Are you intrigued?  Good.  Go down to your library and pick up your copy today.  Then come back and leave your favorite quotation in the comments!  Till then, my hoopy froods, Don’t Panic!

Plum wonderful

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Plum Wodehouse at his typewriter

All right, folks, it is time we had a serious chat about the stunning and wonderful brilliance that is P. G. Wodehouse.  If you have never read his books (why not?!), you have deprived yourself of some of the most magnificent work in the English language.  Not only that, but he also had both a truely astonishing output and staying power.  Wodehouse wrote and was published continuously from 1903 to his death in 1975.  What other author can say such a thing?  In addition, Wodehouse was an absolute favorite of another brilliant (and deeply-missed) writer, Douglas Adams.  Adams once called him “a genius of the English language” and then proceeded to compare his writing to a Bach fugue [introduction to Sunset at Blandings].  Well, I mean, what higher praise is there?

“Yes, yes,” I can hear you cry, “But how can this be true? If this P. G. fellow is so brilliant, then why is he not taught in schools along with Shakespeare and Milton?” 

Ah– I have an answer for you, but you’re not going to like it.  Unlike Shakespeare and Milton, P. G. has never written a boring word in his life– thus he has been disqualified from the canon.  In all seriousness, Wodehouse wrote comedy, which is tragically undervalued in so-called “educational” literature.  {please note– I am a teacher and an English major.  I have read my share of truly mind-numbing “literature.”}  Plum, as he was called by his friends, was not interested one wit in changing society, or giving a grand message, or exposing the dark-underbelly of our tragic lives, or mourning the stark futility of our existential existences. 

He, instead, simply wrote the most fun, intelligent, and clever prose to make people laugh.  Yes– all of this just for the sheer joy of it.

I dare you to finish an entire Wodehouse novel and feel not happy with the world.

Now, being the perpetually stubborn optimist that I am (my college classmates may remember that I prefer the term “anti-utopia” to “dystopia” because I adamantly maintain that utopias are possible and that most people are inherently good-hearted), I find nearly all Literature (note the capital letter there), especially those that win the prizes, appallingly dark, grim, and horrible.  There is enough of that hideousness in real life!  I, like Plum, have no interest in glum navel-gazing when I’m reading.  Give me young Bertie Wooster and his bumbling escapades any day! 

this is the hardback version

And so, to that end, I submit for your reading entertainment, what I consider one of P. G. Wodehouse’s masterpieces of prose and plot: The Code of the Woosters (1938). 

You need this book.  Everyone who can read English needs this book.  Don’t worry; it’s definitely still in print.  Your copy is awaiting you at the bookstore as we speak.

“But, why oh why do I need to own this?  I already have bookshelves teetering to dangerous levels with my to-be-read pile.  My cats are huddling for cover under the bed.  What makes this book, which you have already clearly said does not have a deep and dark message, worth space in my house?”

Thank you for asking this, dear readers.  You need this book because every sentence in it is perfect.  To take just the teeniest of samples from pages 1 & 2 {it helps if you read it aloud.  All of Wodehouse is better when read aloud.}:

“He [Jeeves] shimmered out, and I sat up in bed with that rather unpleasant feeling you get sometimes that you’re going to die in about five minutes.  On the previous night, I had given a little dinner at the Drones to Gussie Fink-Nottle as a friendly send-off before his approaching nuptials with Madeline, only daughter of Sir Watkin Bassett, CBE, and these things take their toll.  Indeed, just before Jeeves came in, I had been dreaming that some bounder was driving spikes through my head– not just ordinary spikes, as used by Jael the wife of Heber, but red-hot ones.

He returned with the tissue-restorer.  I loosed it down the hatch, and after undergoing the passing discomfort, unavoidable when you drink Jeeves’s patent morning revivers, of having the top of the skull fly up to the ceiling and the eyes shoot out of their sockets and rebound from the opposite wall like racquet balls, felt better.  It would have been overstating it to say that even now Bertram was back again in mid-season form, but I had at least slid into the convalescent class and was equal to a spot of conversation.”

Enjoyed that, did you?  Good.  Now, close your eyes and imagine that there was an entire book written in exactly this way. Next, imagine that its plot revolved around a silver cow creamer, a bit of friendly blackmail,a good many engagements (intentional and otherwise), and the most perfect butler in all of literature, all with plot so hopelessly muddled by the end that only a cove of Jeeves’s marvelous intellect is able to unravel it and to conduct us all to the happy ending.  You would need to own such a book, would you not?   You may now open your eyes.  Thus,  The Code of the Woosters needs to come and live at your house.   

I should probably warn you at this point that once you have read one of Wodehouse’s novels, you will fall deeply in love with his prose.  Not to worry, though.  Unlike those irritating modern authors who only write one or two books and then bow out of the field, our Plum published over ninety books and musical plays.  All are frothing over with his wonderful words. 

There is no other way to end this but with Plum’s words from the end of this novel:

“Jeeves was right, I felt.  The snail was on the wing and the lark was on the thorn– or, rather, the other way round– and God was in His heaven and all was right with the world” (285-86).

With a Wodehouse book in your hand, all IS right with the world. 

 

p.s.  the only way to magnify the perfection of Wodehouse would be to combine him with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.  Such a thing was done between 1990 and 1993:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098833/