<< TBR CHALLENGE – MAY 2016 >>
I have a rut. It’s comfortable and secure. Located deep in a dell by BlueCastle, it contains THOUSANDS of romances.
Sky-high piles of romances.
In fact so many romances, I have considered becoming a sort-of endangered species-rescuer of romances; whisking them away from their unfortunate situations and perilous existence in op-shops, garages and the back of wardrobes everywhere and releasing them at BlueCastle…where they can roam freely, without prejudice or fear of poaching…
Because romances are my jam.
I like them best.
I blame too much LM Montgomery, probably not enough Roald Dahl, but just the right amount of Enid Blyton.
Romances are my go-to fixer-of-most-of-what-life-brings. And like most mammals I don’t like change. I acknowledge it exists (like gyms and people-who-power-walk-for-fun), but I try to manage my life without much of it. (Also, like gyms and people-who-power-walk-for-fun…).
But there comes a time in every life where change is THRUST upon you and it is unavoidable.
This month, the harbinger of this dark cloud on my horizon came in the form of Wendy-The-SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge for May: Something Different.
Did you not see the WHOLE paragraph about my rut??? My Castle?? My newly established romance sanctuary????
But as we all know, RESISTANCE is FUTILE.
I present ‘something different’: P.G. WODEHOUSE: A selection of short stories.*
It has been years since I picked up a Wodehouse, and even now I can’t believe I let him slip off my radar.
He is delightful, funny and wry. His stories are light and frothy but with this rapier-like acerbic-ness that slips in between your ribs when you least expect it…
And whilst the longer novels can have a repetitious feel too them (particularly if you read them all in a row); his short stories are like an ultimate box of chocolates to select from. Some are cream-centred, some have crispy bits, some are those boring solid ones they always seem to throw in. Regardless: they are still CHOCOLATE and chocolate is GOOD.
I made my way through a half dozen or so, before I started to feel the sugar-binge headache coming on. I detail two below:
NB: this IS about suicide, albeit a humorous take, with a happy ending – so trigger warnings…?
Mr Meggs, is a professional lay-about, suffering from chronic indigestion.
‘The thing seemed to hit him suddenly out of a blue sky. One moment, all appeared to be peace and joy; the next, a lively and irritable wild-cat with red-hot claws seemed somehow to have introduced itself into his interior.’
He can’t take it anymore and nothing he tries ever works.
‘He was sick of it. He looked back down the vista of the years, and found therein no hope for the future. One after the other all the patent medicines in creation had failed him. Smith’s Supreme Digestive Pellets–he had given them a more than fair trial. Blenkinsop’s Liquid Life-Giver–he had drunk enough of it to float a ship. Perkins’s Premier Pain-Preventer, strongly recommended by the sword-swallowing lady at Barnum and Bailey’s–he had wallowed in it. And so on down the list. His interior organism had simply sneered at the lot of them.’
So he decides to do away with himself. First, though, he has to work out how…
‘It had not been without considerable thought that Mr Meggs had decided upon the method of his suicide. The knife, the pistol, the rope–they had all presented their charms to him. He had further examined the merits of drowning and of leaping to destruction from a height.
There were flaws in each. Either they were painful, or else they were messy. Mr Meggs had a tidy soul, and he revolted from the thought of spoiling his figure, as he would most certainly do if he drowned himself; or the carpet, as he would if he used the pistol; or the pavement–and possibly some innocent pedestrian, as must infallibly occur should he leap off the Monument. The knife was out of the question. Instinct told him that it would hurt like the very dickens.’
And then he has to dispose of his assets. Enter Miss Pillager, his secretary. He wants to leave his worldly goods to a specific number of people – including Miss Pillager, but, through a number of unfortunate incidents, she mistakes his benevolent kindness as actually a come on…and trouble ensues.
Crowned by a short chase down the main street and a rescuing of recalcitrant letters, Meggs realises that infact exercise, not suicide might actually be the answer to his situation…
An astounding thought struck him.
‘Why, I feel well!’
‘It must be the exercise I took yesterday. By George, I’ll do it regularly.’
‘Although this story is concerned principally with the Man and the Maid, the Miasma pervades it to such an extent that I feel justified in putting his name on the bills.’
Mr Ferguson has just fired Master Bean. Unfortunately, he was still out in the reception – keeping Ferguson trapped in his office.
‘Mr Ferguson kicked the waste-paper basket savagely. The unfairness of the thing hurt him. A sacked office-boy ought to stay sacked. He had no business to come popping up again like Banquo’s ghost. It was not playing the game.’
In an effort to avoid him, Ferguson stays late – really late, only to discover he’s been locked in. With Master Bean. The humanity of it all!
‘The reader may wonder what was the trouble–why Mr Ferguson could not stalk out and brusquely dispose of his foe; but then the reader has not employed Master Bean for a month. Mr Ferguson had, and his nerve had broken.’
Escaping up a floor, he walks into a compatriot’s office only to see, to his shock, his former lady-love who had just started working there.
‘Men who have been hit by bullets say the first sensation is merely a sort of dull shock. So it was with Mr Ferguson. He stopped in his tracks and stared.’
There are words.
‘I thought we agreed when we parted not to speak to one another,’ said she, coldly.
‘Did we? I thought it was only to meet as strangers.’
‘It’s the same thing.’
‘Is it? I often talk to strangers.’
‘What a bore they must think you!’ she said, hiding one-eighth of a yawn with the tips of two fingers. ‘I suppose,’ she went on, with faint interest, ‘you talk to them in trains when they are trying to read their paper?’
In a fit of vindictiveness, he sics Master Bean on her. She foolishly rises to the challenge.
Six hours later she returned to his office:
‘She was changed. The battle-gleam had faded from her eyes. She seemed scared and subdued. Her manner was of one craving comfort and protection. ‘That awful boy!’ she breathed.
‘Bean?’ said Mr Ferguson, picking a crumb off the carpet.
I feel battered. He’s like one of those awful encyclopedias that give you a sort of dull leaden feeling in your head directly you open them. Do you know how many tons of water go over Niagara Falls every year?’
They bond over their joint hatred of the horrifying office boy:
‘It’s frightful when he looks at you; you think of all the wrong things you have ever done or ever wanted to do.’
‘Does he have that effect on you?’ he said, excitedly. ‘Why, that exactly describes what I feel.’
Wodehouse’s dialogue is fast. His characters eccentric. His words – well his words I could happily drown myself in them.
The stories have a luminosity and quirkiness all of their own, and NO ONE, (I don’t care what anyone says), no one can master his style.
An article in the Wall Street Journal quotes his style as masterly, ‘a carefully crafted form of ludic release’, And it completely breaks all of Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing . Additionally, there are references left, right and centre, to the Bible, Shakespeare and any kind of mythology you like. And the pace? It is FAST. Rapid. Swift. Expeditious.
But it doesn’t sacrifice plot. Plots are nice and twisty.
It’s like Gilmore Girls writing set in the early 20th century.
I was reading somewhere that criticised Wodehouse (blasphemy, really), for his lack of character development and superficial storylines, and whilst it is not a new criticism, it kind of made me wonder what in the world they were reading Wodehouse for?
Even Wodehouse admitted that his characters were fleeting and repetitious…
In his preface to Summer Lightning (an EXCELLENT book if you come across it), he writes:
‘A certain critic – for such men, I regret to say, do exist – made a nasty remark about my last novel that it contained all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. He has probably been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he survives he will not be about to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty sill it will make him feel, I rather fancy…’
The covers? New & old – they are all so good:
Everything about Wodehouse has joyful abundance and felicity that cannot but make you cheerful – and fix most of anything that ails you.
So, maybe change isn’t ALL bad.
Mea Culpa, Wendy The SuperLibrarian, Mea Culpa…Your omniscience does you proud.
Vacancy: binging on chocolates and Wodehouse simultaneously…and now; looking for a pet pig.
*these are a random selection of Wodehouse Shorties…from no particular book, but they are all available in the Public Domain – which is tres useful!
Header Image: Vintage 1930s Dance Poster, Charles Verschuuren