Any reservations I may have had about Sebastian Faulks doing justice to P.G. Wodehouse were canceled on page one. Bertie Wooster’s alarm clock shrieks him into wakefulness, he curses and shoves the wretched thing beneath his mattress, and regrets having too little of “nature’s sweet restorer,” as Jeeves calls it. Bertie is in a pickle because he is trying to help a friend and must turn to Jeeves for advice. Faulks has caught him: Bertie is back.
Bertie explains the complex plot that has put Jeeves into the drawing room of Melbury Hall and the driver side of the Wooster two-seater, while he remains below as the manservant and the passenger. He will steal the well-thumbed volumes of peerage and baronetage (to protect Jeeves’s impersonation of Lord Etringham), and bring in ringers for a vital cricket match. All the while, he little knows “what the lead-filled sock of fate” has in store for him. It is an excellent Wodehousean beginning.
Faulks has kept the Wooster outrage intact. When Jeeves suggests that members of the serving class wear a pair of side-whiskers, Bertie takes umbrage. Sort of. “There are times to take offence, but this was not one of them. I left my high horse unmounted --- though tethered pretty close.” He continues with his plan.
"The title JEEVES AND THE WEDDING BELLS hints at the finale, but we still blunder along with Bertie, laughing out loud in pleasure and surprise at the deftness of Faulks’s clever storyline and the faithfulness to Wodehouse’s best-known characters."
And Bertie’s perfect assessment of his formidable aunts and other large matrons of society remains intact. “If you were a Sumerian tablet beneath Dame Judith’s scrutiny, one imagined, you would give up your secrets pretty quick, cuneiform or not.” His Aunt Agatha does not appear in JEEVES AND THE WEDDING BELLS, but her impending visit is an impetus for Bertie and Jeeves to leave for the country.
Always important for a reader’s quiet delight, Bertie’s references to the classics remain in this homage. Under the influence of “the liquid contents of Sir Henry’s ottoman” or, more precisely, the cognac, at the end of the final day of masquerading as Jeeves’s manservant, Bertie must gain entrance to Melbury Hall. His thoughts run to Macbeth about the “odds on the raveled sleeve of care being knitted up to any appreciable extent,” but it does not matter who is awake or asleep. His ill-conceived appearance at the wrong window frightens the household.
Later, Jeeves is revealed as “the willing Pandarus” while Bertie makes sense of the adventure. Even though Jeeves must annotate the references, Bertie is more literate than he knows. Jeeves is still the master of deduction, understatement and advance planning. Almost before it happened, he knew “there was only one candidate for the role of rooftop intruder wrapped in a builder’s dust sheet.”
Most importantly, Bertie’s inherent sweetness and gallantry are left intact. Almost unbeknownst to himself (but not the ever-hopeful reader), he has fallen in love with a girl who loves him in return. It would seem that nothing could be simpler, but there is no simple in Bertie’s world. Faulks brings a heart-beating passion threatening to “burst the buttons” from his shirt, which had eluded him throughout the Wodehouse novels.
Bertie’s genuine affection for Jeeves is also still evident as he asks why Jeeves has helped him along the circuitous path to true love. But he already knows why. “It occurred to me at that moment that the answer was obvious…. I had begun to feel a slight pressure behind the eyes and an odd thickening of the throat.” The British aristocracy that Wodehouse knew and detailed so brilliantly is gone, but the line of position is blurred completely as Bertie articulates the warmth of his and Jeeves’s friendship.
The title JEEVES AND THE WEDDING BELLS hints at the finale, but we still blunder along with Bertie, laughing out loud in pleasure and surprise at the deftness of Faulks’s clever storyline and the faithfulness to Wodehouse’s best-known characters.
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on November 27, 2013