Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Love Among the Chickens by P. G. Wodehouse

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

This book was one of the selections for our recent road trip to Colorado. I picked it because, well, who wouldn’t want to read a book entitled Love Among the Chickens by that Wodehouse fellow.

I am quite fond of Wodehouse, to say the least, having been introduced to him in my teens by my violin teacher’s husband.

Here are the previous Wodehouse posts on this blog:

This book was published in 1909, making it one of Wodehouse’s earliest novels. Indeed, it predated both the Psmith books and the Bertie and Jeeves stories, to say nothing of Lord Emsworth. It is also the only full length novel featuring Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge. (YOOK-ridge - which I was unclear on before hearing this. I assume Jonathan Cecil knows what he is doing.)

Ukridge is of the same breed as Beriah Sellers (created by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age, reviewed here), the gregarious and persuasive personality, ever ready with a get-rich-quick scheme, and always lacking ready funds. Ukridge convinces the narrator, his friend Jeremy Garnet, a successful pulp novelist, to assist him in starting a chicken farm. Never mind that neither Garnet nor Ukridge, nor his long-suffering wife have zero knowledge or experience. Ukridge considers this a virtue: no preconceived notions to get in the way of success!

In typical Wodehouse fashion, hijinks ensue, complicated by, of course, a girl. Garnet falls madly in love with the daughter of a professor who is spending his summer in the country. Ukridge manages to mess everything up, and Garnet decides to risk it all in a stunt straight from one of his own novels.

I won’t attempt to go further than that with the plot. No sense in spoiling the fun. Although this is an early work, it showcases the comic timing, sense of the absurd, and thoroughly British humor that would characterize the mature Wodehouse. Ukridge may not be quite as subtle as Psmith, or as naive as Lord Emsworth, but he is quite memorable, and a fine example of a Wodehousian character. The plot, as usual, is well thought out, full of twists and turns and inspired silliness.

A few things appear in this book which presage future Wodehouse fixtures. First is the appearance of a butler. Beale isn’t Jeeves, obviously. There is only one Jeeves, and everyone else is just an imitation. But Beale is recognizably a British butler, resourceful and laconic, with a good deal more common sense than either of the main characters.

Second is an extended golf scene which is crucial to the plot. I’m not a golfer. But Wodehouse’s golf stories are hilarious and full of memorable lines. ("I killed him with my niblick," said Celia.
I nodded. If the thing was to be done at all, it was unquestionably a niblick shot.)

This audiobook was narrated by the late Jonathan Cecil, known for his work on the screens, stage, and radio. The Spectator once called him “one of the finest upper-class-twits of his era,” which makes me laugh just to say. In any event, he does a truly outstanding job on this book (and his other Wodehouse books - of which there are many). Each character, male or female, gets a distinctive voice and style, making the dialogue easy to follow. While I am partial to printed books as a general rule, I recommend that everyone experience a Wodehouse book as a Cecil narration at least once. It’s that delightful.

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