26/05/2014

The Man with Two Left Feet and other stories (by PG Wodehouse)

I've been a great fan of PG Wodehouse's light humour since my father first introduced me to one of his books about forty years ago. I had built up quite a collection of his better-known work, which seems to be continually in print, so was delighted to discover some other, lesser-known books, available free in e-book form at Project Gutenberg.

'The Man with Two Left Feet' turns out to be a collection of miscellaneous short stories, one of Wodehouse's very early publications. I'm not, in general, a fan of short stories but they made ideal reading - one per day - on my Kindle at breakfast time. I enjoyed them, on the whole; I was particularly pleased to find one which - I later learned - was the first ever reference to Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves.

I'm pretty sure I've read some of these stories before; I didn't recognise any of them immediately, but the impression grew on me during several, where I could remember the outcome or slight twist. Admittedly they were mostly fairly predictable, and typical of the way the author's mind worked - but, whether or not I had read them before, it didn't matter at all.

I particularly enjoyed a two-part tale in the middle of the collection which is supposedly narrated by a dog. Perhaps it almost borders into silliness, and yet it has poignant moments too. The humour relies on the dog's trust in human nature, and some rather clever writing that lets the reader understand what's really going on. There are also more standard stories of relationships marred by misunderstandings, of mishaps and mistakes that, while naturally seeming somewhat old fashioned (and far from 'politically correct'), are still relevant to the modern mind.

The title story - about a man who is unable to dance - is the last one in the book, and one which, like several, was rather predictable; not that this matters with Wodehouse humour, as the gently ironic style and upper-class language are what make the stories so enjoyable. While his brilliant use of language hasn't quite come to the fore in this selection, there were some passages that made me smile; for instance, in describing an area populated with artistes of all kind, from the perspective of a policemen, he writes:

'They assault and batter nothing but pianos, they steal nothing but ideas, they murder nobody except Chopin and Beethoven.'

Definitely recommended for any Wodehouse fans who enjoy short stories, but not ideal as an introduction to the great man. Note that the Amazon links are to paperback versions of this collection.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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