Thursday, October 23, 2008

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse

Whenever I need to shore up my air of whimsy, I turn to the novels of Wodehouse. And not long ago I picked up a used copy (he doesn't need the royalties anymore) of this novel at my local used book shop, Bookwise. I never really know if I've read a Wodehouse before (unless I own it) and it doesn't really matter--they all have certain similarities and are perfectly okay for rereading since they don't stick in my head at all. But I really really enjoyed Piccadilly Jim, even more than usual. Perhaps because it's not a Jeeves book and so felt a little different, and perhaps because it's set in NYC, a juxtaposition that made the big-house aspiring-to-the-House-of-Lords baseball-loving-impostor-butler comedy even funnier. And while I was reading it occurred to me that while Austen may have supplied the plot, Wodehouse supplied the voice for Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones. I've long said the thing I like about so-called chick lit is that it permits women writers to be funny but I'd love to see more (women?) writers do comedy omniscience like this (the second sentence):

"She was a large woman, with a fine figure and bold and compelling eyes, and her personality crashed disturbingly into the quiet atmosphere of the room. She was the type of woman whom small, diffident men seem to marry instinctively, as unable to help themselves as cockleshell boats sucked into a maelstrom."

It seems pretty often the Bridget Jones-Shopaholic-Good-in-Bed women protagonists are Bertie Wooster-like in their behavior so that the comedy is mostly grounded in the things they do and think and sometimes in the situations they get into...but the narrator rarely (in my unscientific study) steps back and notices the larger world in such a funny way as Wodehouse does.

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