Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames

I'm planning one day to teach a graduate course "Allowing Influence" that will be about deliberately taking on other writers, other texts and allowing their influence into our writing. This novel would be a definite candidate for the reading list. Wake Up, Sir! is essentially an American's take on Jeeves. Or rather an American's take on Bertie Wooster. Ames' novel is about a goofy, young, alcoholic, suddenly-wealthy, orphaned American writer who has hired a valet named Jeeves. Ames acknowledges straight on the reference to Wodehouse's butler, but never lets on that Alan Blair is very much a Bertie Wooster gone wild. The novel--which is very very funny in many places and clever in all the rest--works because it uses the Wodehouse voice and the Wodehouse character of Jeeves directly, but adapts Wooster. So the reader who loves Wodehouse will recognize the voice and Jeeves (as well as the heist-related plot), but not feel like the book is an attempt to write Wodehouse. Because Blair is far more troubled, and far more R-rated than Wooster, he reads like his American cousin. And as a result, the book rather than being an imitation becomes a comment on the differences between Brit lit and American, as well as Brit behavior vs. American (if I may generalize, a bit). So there is influence but not pure imitation. Clever indeed.

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