This is the sequel to Schott’s first Jeeves and Wooster continuation novel, Jeeves and the King of Club (2018), which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was definitely in need of a comfort read so when my copy arrived it went straight to the top of the reading pile. The world of Wooster is a relaxing one to jump into and it fits in well with this blog’s leaning towards older crime fiction. Regular readers of the blog will know that I even celebrated my 5-year blog anniversary with a post on the links between the work of P G Wodehouse and Golden Age Detective fiction.
‘The Drones Club’s in peril. Gussie’s in love. Spode’s on the warpath. Oh, and His Majesty’s Government needs a favour.
I say – it’s a good thing Bertie’s back!
In this eagerly anticipated sequel to Jeeves and the King of Clubs, Ben Schott leads Jeeves and Wooster on another elegantly uproarious espionage caper.
From the mean streets of Mayfair to the scheming spires of Cambridge, we encounter a joyous cast of characters: chiselling painters and criminal bookies, eccentric philosophers and dodgy clairvoyants, appalling poets and pocket dictators, vexatious aunts and their vicious hounds.
But that’s not all:
Who is ICEBERG, and why is he covered in chalk?
Why is Jeeves reading Winnie-the-Pooh?
What is seven across and eighty-five down?
How do you play Russian roulette at The Savoy?
All these questions, and more, are answered in Jeeves and the Leap of Faith – essential reading for fans of The Master.
Adapting stories and writing continuations for them is something of a contentious territory to operate in. To remain faithful to the original works and characters there are many components to be adhered to and for some this has felt too much of an unbearable “constraint”; too much like hard work and the finished articles this mindset produces are invariably divisive. Now a case can be made against being too faithful to an original and I am put in mind of the 80s adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? A most faithful adaptation, which diligently includes every little plot episode. But it is also a ridiculously long film and relief tends to be feeling once you finally make it to the end. Some reading this may feel I am digressing or taking a very long time to get to my point, but I think it is important to consider what goes into a successful adaptation or continuation novel, as there are fundamental factors which must be kept in perfect balance. Fidelity to the original author’s works in terms of characters, writing style, plotting and tone etc, is one of these factors, yet by itself is no fool proof guarantee of success. A writer continuing another author’s work, not only needs to inhabit the world their predecessor created but they also need to so thoroughly understand it that they can competently and engagingly build within it new structures – be they physical buildings, plot events or new characters. Any new addition must fit within the existing colour scheme.
A tall order you might say, but does Schott manage to do this?
I am a tricky person to please when it comes to continuation works and adaptations, so getting a second thumbs up from me is no mean feat! Schott, in this book, clearly demonstrates that he knows what elements makes the Jeeves and Wooster stories so entertaining. One of these elements is Wooster’s narrative voice, something Schott reproduces well; as I started this book it was like sinking into a warm bath. Schott is adept at using the right kind of language, (dialect?), that Wooster uses, even knowing which words to abbreviate.
Jeeves’ relationship with his employer is also another crucial component of the Wooster stories and again I would say Schott incorporates this effectively, with plenty of pep and energy. There are beautiful moments of passive aggression through The Times crossword, due to a contretemps over which wallpaper to get for Wooster’s bedroom. To some the Jeeves and Wooster stories may seem to be filled with trivial things, yet as the original tales and now these new ones show, they are hugely entertaining works because of the way they accumulate the trivial and the small.
This brings me on to the structure and plotting of the book and again it reinforces my point of needing to understand the original works thoroughly. Those familiar with Wodehouse’s style will know that the Wooster and Jeeves books develop out of a series of small narrative threads and it is the way these threads entangle and collide that produces the engaging narratives we all love and know. Invariably Wooster has been cajoled, steamrollered or commanded to do multiple favours, many of which work against each other. Small dilemmas escalate and friction heightens between the characters and these minor skirmishes ultimately run helter-skelter into one another for one glorious explosion of comedy.
As with the first continuation novel, the “mystery” element of this book comes in the form of espionage and fairly mild espionage at that. Bertie agrees to go to Cambridge disguised as a cleric in order to help retrieve a compromising photograph, (and no it’s not what you’re thinking!) The compromised person has a glittering future ahead of them in the Foreign Office and Junior Ganymeade, (Jeeves’ club which also operates as an arm of British Intelligence), want to ensure they are able to fulfil it. Yet crime also makes it way into the book through a hotel jewellery heist – a thread which is tantalising only partially resolved, making me eager to read and hopeful that a third book is in the offing.
Humour is naturally one of the cornerstones of the original stories penned by Wodehouse, and once more this is a facet Schott carries well into his own continuation tales. You just know Bertie is going to get into all kinds of bother trying to pretend to be a cleric, though one of my favourite moments is when he and Jeeves have to further pretend they’re from Ordnance Survey to get out of a tight spot. Just when they think they’re in the clear one of their accusers says: ‘Why is a clergyman working for the Ordnance Survey?’ Yet Jeeves is not easily lost for words and he replies: ‘Spiritual outreach, sir.’
Jeeves and Winnie-the-Pooh are mentioned in the blurb and I was wondering how this would crop up in the book. I won’t spoil this bit, but I will say it has its hilarious moments. Though perhaps the best Jeeves/Wooster occasion is when Bertie is still trying to work on the crossword and regarding one clue he says: ‘I’ve a hunch it involves bananas. Would you say I was hot, or cold?’ I picture Jeeves with a deadpan face when he replies: ‘Cold, sir. Very cold. Ice-cold. Frostily cold. Frigidly cold. Glacially cold. Hyperboreanly cold-’ Further humour also abounds as Wooster has to grapple with his Aunt Agatha who is determined to get him married off, and with his rather trying friend Gussie who manages to fall in love with different women at a rapid rate of knots.
The mystery factor in this book might not be big, but I would say it is used far more effectively than other books I have read of late, which have promised a far bigger involvement of their mystery component. From the blurb you can see the book is not trying to fly under false colours, so your expectations are not inaccurately shaped. Having now read the novel I would also say it doesn’t force the mystery element into the plot, (a difficulty I had with Antoine Laurain’s The Reader’s Room, last month.)
So if you are looking for an entertaining and comforting read I would strongly recommend you pick this one up!