Sunday, August 23, 2020

Something Fresh by P. G. Wodehouse: Silliness at Blandings Castle

 


After my visit to Second Story Books in Rockville last month, I realized that nearly all the unread P. G. Wodehouse in my home library were from his Blandings Castle series. I get twitchy about reading books in a series out of order (except for Zola), so I decided to track down the first novel, Something Fresh, first published in 1915 (titled Something New in the U.S.) It was available for digital audio download from my library, and since I was about to embark on a long car trip, it seemed like the perfect choice for a summer read. This book doesn't count for a single one of my reading challenges but it was a break from all the long books I'm reading this summer, and it is so delightful I had to write about it.

The story begins with a young man called Ashe Marson, a young writer of thrillers who is lodging in a cheap rental near Leicester Square in London (though I am sure it would shockingly expensive today). He has drawn the attention of a fellow lodger, Joan Valentine, because he is outside one morning doing calisthenics in the street. They get to talking and it is revealed that Joan is also a writer for the same cheap tabloid, and they both want to get out and do something more interesting (and profitable). 

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the hapless Freddie Threepwood, the second son of Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle. Freddie is in a tizzy because he has recently become engaged to a young heiress, Aline Peters, daughter of an American businessman. His father is pleased with the engagement, but Freddie is worried that he may be served with a breach-of-promise lawsuit from a pretty chorus girl. Freddie never actually met her but sent her flowers, letters, and poetry, which may have included a proposal. He fears that he may be subject to blackmail or even legal action. 

Then we have Lord Emsworth, a gruff yet lovable but extremely forgetful man, who is liable to steal the silverware from a restaurant as most people would walk off with a cheap ballpoint pen. Whilst visiting his future in-law Mr. Peters, the absent-minded Lord has unwittingly absconded with a valuable Egyptian artifact, a precious Cheops scarab, from Mr. Peters' collection. Mr. Peters will stop at nothing to get it back, including a large reward, and places an ad in the paper for a young man seeking a well-paid adventure, which attracts the attention of Ashe. 


All these characters converge on Blandings Castle for a fortnight's holiday in which everyone is trying to get their hands on the scarab, with the addition of various relatives, hangers-on, secretaries, and servants, and hilarity ensues (and even a little romance). If you're familiar with the Jeeves and Wooster stories, this is definitely in the same vein, especially the classic novel The Code of the Woosters (which also involves an artifact being stolen back). There is even a brief mention of an Emsworth relative named Algernon Wooster -- a precursor of Bertie, perhaps? 

This was the perfect book for a car trip, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times. It was brilliantly narrated by Frederick Davidson, who does all the voices and accents beautifully (except for a few slips in his attempts at an American southern twang). Davidson also narrated the audio version of Les Miserables that I downloaded earlier this year, and his reading was a big part of keeping my interest for the 56 parts of the novel. He was a prolific narrator of more than 700 audiobooks and I think I could listen to him read a telephone book, if they still exist. 

I'm looking forward to more Blandings novels and maybe even the TV series, which I have yet to watch. Has anyone seen it? And which Wodehouse novels do you recommend? I've read several of the Jeeves and Wooster novels and some of the stand-alone novels. Next up in the Blandings series is Leave it to Psmith, which is #4 in that series, so I don't know if I should go back and start with Psmith #1 and jump back into Blandings. Does it really matter?

12 comments:

  1. I love the Blandings books even more than the Jeeves and Wooster ones. I don't think there is a major problem with reading (or listening) to the books out of order. My favorite character in the Blandings books in Lord E's younger brother, uncle to Freddy, Galahad, known as Gally. I don't think he was in Something Fresh.

    I enjoyed the Blandings TV series. Of course, it doesn't follow the books and short stories exactly, due to the need to fit things into the required time slots, but I thought that it had the personalities of the characters down very well. They behaved the way they should. And I loved the visuals, the grounds and the pig, the clothing the buildings, and so on. My husband (who loves Galahad Threepwood even more than I do) and I have watched the series twice. I know that the critical views were mixed, but it all depends on what you want.

    Jerri C

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    1. One of my unread books is Galahad at Blandings! It's #10 in the series but I don't think I have to read the other eight first.

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  2. there have been times (while reading a Wodehouse epic, especially re Blandings Castle) when i have sincerely thought Plum (his nickname) was the world's best writer... the Jeeves series with Stephen Fry is exceptionally good, i thought. surprisingly, i didn't think the tv Blandings Castle was quite up to snuff...

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    1. I love Jeeves & Wooster! I've watched the series multiple times, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are perfectly cast.

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  3. I read the Blandings books as I came across them, so very out of order. It isn't a series with the continuing plot line, and PGW is good at sketching in the back story when necessary. Psmith is such a wonderful character!

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    1. I haven't read any Psmith so I'm looking forward to him!

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  4. Can't go wrong with some Wodehouse! I have dozens of his novels that I haven't read yet (possibly an exaggeration, but only possibly) so must head to them. I have no recollection of which ones I HAVE read either, but I think I might have read this one 20 years ago...

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    1. I love Wodehouse but I suppose they do tend to run together a bit. They're very dependable but he does tend to have stock characters and situations. I nearly always end up loving them though.

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  5. No need to read the earlier Psmith books, because actually Psmith and his pal Mike grew out of Plum's very much earlier school stories. I found them fine, but not really gems. However (BIG however) Leave it to Psmith is, for me, the jewel in the PGW crown. Absolutely The Best of a very long list of wonderful books. Go for it.

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    1. Thank you! My library has an audio download and I'm looking forward to it.

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  6. Now you've done it! I am now in the mood for some P.G. Wodehouse and this sounds like such a fun romp. I love the premise, and I love the fact that it is first in a series so noticing characters that could be precursors is such fun.

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  7. I’ve never read Wodehouse but my 15 yr old daughter is devouring as many as she can get her hands on. Fortunately, our library has an abundant supply. 🙂

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