Should You Read Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse?

“I was a shade perturbed. Nothing to signify, really, but still just a spot concerned. As I sat in the old flat, idly touching the strings of my banjolele, an instrument to which I had become greatly addicted of late, you couldn’t have said that the brow was actually furrowed, and yet, on the other hand, you couldn’t have absolutely stated it wasn’t. Perhaps the word ‘pensive’ covers it. It seemed to me that a situation fraught with embarrassing potentialities had arisen.”

– Opening of Thank You, Jeeves

Bertram Wooster has a problem. His neighbors are complaining about his banjolele playing. The building manager has given him an ultimatum: stop playing the thing or move elsewhere. And, naturally, being the man he is, he won’t give up the instrument for anything. Not even when his trusty valet Jeeves proclaims that he will quit if forced to bear the music within the confines of the small country cottage Wooster proposes to move to. Take the cottage Wooster does, moving onto land owned by an old school friend, but when that friend falls in love with the daughter of a rich American man who tries to confine said daughter to his yacht, fearing that she’s going to attempt to run off with Wooster, everyone falls into a tangle. Will Wooster be able to extricate himself and play successful matchmaker for the two lovebirds? Or will it all descend into chaos?

Originally written in the 1930’s, this is a book that shows its age. In terms of the writing itself, you’ll find a casual style with a lot of British-isms, many of which I didn’t recognize, but in all cases I was able to rely on context clues to understand without much difficulty.

Apart from that, the simple style makes for a quick and easy read. This isn’t a book that forces you to read slowly and thoughtfully as it presents depth of emotion or of thought. Instead, it focuses entirely on humor. The cleverness is in its humor. The most important feature of the writing is its comedic timing. And in this way, the book certainly excels.

But unfortunately, the slang terms and the lack of modern technology are not the only things that show this book was written in the early 1900’s. And nothing quite kills a good laugh like racial slurs and blackface. There are other points as well, like sexism and some problematic attitudes regarding mental health, but the racism really takes the cake. And sticks around a good long while, banishing all hope that it might at least be over quickly.

It’s really a shame, since I picked this up hoping for a good laugh and a lightened mood. It had everything else going for it. The situations created a compelling plot without ever being so serious that I worried for the characters instead of being able to laugh at their predicaments. The narrator was likeable and just the right degree of ridiculous. Several of the jokes were clever and not ones that I’d ever heard before. If only society hadn’t possessed so many horrendous attitudes during the time that it was written, it might have really been something.

So should you read it? Maybe if you want to study it, for the sake of cultural relevance, for the sake of learning how to write in a similar comedic style. But if you’re looking for a humorous book to enjoy, I’m sure you can find better options. Or at least options without these drawbacks. At the very least, you might try a different one of the stories featuring these characters, as I’ve heard they’re not all quite so bad. I picked this one because of its appearance on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, but since reading it I’m forced to wonder if it was chosen over others in the series due to its word count (being the first novel-length entry in the series) rather than its comparative quality. Maybe someday I’ll pick up another one and find out, but I must admit this book hasn’t made me immediately eager to do so.

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