15/08/2012

A Man of Means (by PG Wodehouse)

I started reading PG Wodehouse books when I was in my early teens, at the recommendation of my father. He had several of the excellent Jeeves and Wooster series, and a few others; as an adult, I collected several of my own editions too. I don't think I had quite realised just what a vast number of books he wrote until I started looking on Project Gutenberg for out-of-copyright books for my Kindle.

I was delighted to find, among others, 'A Man of Means'. I'd never heard of it before, so had no idea what to expect. It's very early Wodehouse; six short stories that, apparently, appeared in magazine form. I had not realised until I started the second one that they all feature the same man  - the rather hapless Roland Bleke, who appears first as a nervous 22-year-old clerk.  So it's more like a novelette with six chapters.

Bizarrely, we meet Roland in the first few pages of the book when he is asking his boss for a salary decrease... he has apparently promised to marry his girlfriend when his salary reaches a certain level, so wants to ensure that it does not reach it.

Unfortunately for - perhaps - the only man in England who had no desire to become rich, Roland finds himself the unexpected winner of more money than he has ever had before, and thus in the clutches of his greedy potential in-laws...

The first story ends as he makes a dramatic (if predictable) escape, and then the second episode begins when Roland finds himself in a completely new location, taken in - in both senses - by a speculating and somewhat fraudulent businessman.
In each chapter, he finds himself in some kind of trouble - often engaged to a young woman only to find that she is not as charming as he first thought. Fate appears to smile on Roland, however, and he not only gets away in time, he remains popular and his wealth continues to increase.

This book is not up to the standard of the wonderful Jeeves books, but I can see hints of Bertie Wooster foreshadowed in Roland Bleke. The plots are very clever and highly unlikely,  in classic Wodehouse style, tinged with a lot of irony and light humour. The caricatured minor characters are excellent, and the overall book very enjoyable. Particularly since it was free.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys Wodehouse books. Note that Amazon links are to paperback versions of this - it's still in print, on both sides of the Atlantic - but Kindle and other ebook owners can download it free from Project Gutenberg.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 15th August 2012

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