27/04/2008

Aunts Aren't Gentleman (by P G Wodehouse)

Every so often I read something out of my usual genre of light women's fiction. I was first introduced to PG Wodehouse by my father, when I was a teenager; I've collected several of his books over the years, mostly second-hand, and enjoy them for a bit of light relief, now and then.

I particularly like the series involving the rather gormless (but very good-hearted) young man Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. They're mostly set in London around the turn of the 20th century, and feature the upper-middle and upper classes in a life that's now long gone. Bertie's days revolve around his clubs, his visits to country mansions, and his attempts to help out various friends.

In 'Aunts Aren't Gentlemen', Bertie wakes one day to find spots on his chest. A doctor assures him that they are not serious, but that his lifestyle is driving him to ill health. A repairing lease in the countryside is recommended, so Bertie thinks he might pay a visit to his favourite Aunt, Dahlia. Unfortunately she is about to go away herself; however she suggests he might rent a cottage not far away, in a tranquil village.

Despite first appearances of a soothing country life, Bertie's stay is anything but tranquil. He bumps into Vanessa Cook, a girl whom he once proposed to, but now has no desire to marry; he is threatened by Vanessa's fiancé Orlo Potter; he gets involved in a cat-stealing plot through no fault of his own, and he comes across Major Plank, who thinks Bertie once tried to cheat him out of five pounds.

The plot is rather complex, with a large number of sub-plots, although naturally it all unravels smoothly at the end. It's punctuated by Wodehouse's uniquely ironic and informal style, peppered with quotations from Jeeves and random thoughts from Bertie, who is - as always - the first person narrator.

I don't laugh aloud with PG Wodehouse when I'm reading it to myself (though I used to, when reading Jeeves books to my sons) but I smiled several times.

However, it's not everybody's cup of tea. If you despise the upper classes, or just don't 'get' the British sense of humour, you probably won't like this. But if you're a fan of Wodehouse, this is a good story; regularly in print, widely available second-hand.

Oh, and if anyone reading from the USA finds the title puzzling, I should add that in British English, 'aunt' and 'aren't' are homonyms - words that sound exactly the same.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, April 2008

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