Reading, seemingly such a sedentary pursuit, is in fact rather demanding. Allowing for our natural aptitude for understanding arrays of letters (or “words”), perceiving and interpreting arrays of these words, both in small chains and larger chunks, and then accepting that we have understood: i) what we wanted to understand; ii) what we think the author might have wanted us to get out of the exercise; iii) ideally a synthesis of i) & ii). The trouble is, so very often we find ourselves quite bloody tired from having to avoid sleep, that i), ii) and iii) slip from our grasp (in my case between the mattress and the beside cabinet).
Thank God therefore for good writing and brevity. And accordingly praise all heaven for its finest purveyor, P.G. Wodehouse of Guildford, Surrey. Ignoring a trio of school-set novellas collected under the title The Golden Bat, my plunge into the Wodehouse lake was via a 800-page anthology under the Everyman imprint, book-ended by The Code of the Woosters and Uncle Fred in the Springtime, with an excerpt from Over Seventy as an epilogue.
The middle of the collection is devoted to a selection of his short stories. I won’t pass comment of the Jeeves stories, other than to obviously remark that they’re fantastic, but of the others, I will attempt to strain my critical faculties a little (not so much that my brain catches up with my sore shoulder).
Uncle Fred Flits By
Uncle Fred is a majestic character: a powerhouse of poise, resourcefulness and charisma housed in a slender, dignified frame. Here, whilst sheltering from a shower on a South London street, on a whim he trespasses into and takes over a suburban household, allowing his wits free rein to overwhelm the credulity of the other characters. The exception is his nephew Pongo, a personable young man who, knowing the truth, is worn down to almost nervous exhaustion by the outrageous behaviour of his uncle. His propensity for falling in love at first sight is tested here: the domestic affair Uncle Fred barges into is a dispute over a pretty girl marrying an inferior boy (Pongo is hit by love and envy like a lightning bolt out of nowhere). Frustratingly unable to exercise any kind of chivalric urge, Pongo is left to watch his Uncle play a benevolent god and get the kisses. Brilliant stuff.
The Crime Wave at Blandings
This one wasn’t my favourite out of the short stories. It’s none the less very good, but perhaps I didn’t enjoy the tension between the differing personalities of Lord Emsworth and Lady Constance, and how the very dry presence of Rupert Baxter sits between them. Also, the crime wave turns out to be some tomfoolery with a pop-gun (perhaps having recently read The Code of the Woosters with its theft of police headgear, didn’t help here). That said, Emsworth is a sedately lovable character and the resolution, where the responsibility for the various shootings somehow are resolved in Emsworth’s (and our) favour, is really enjoyable.