Hot Water (by PG Wodehouse)

I have quite a collection of PG Wodehouse books, some of which I don’t think I have ever read. In an attempt to correct this omission, I’m gradually reading or re-reading my through them all, interspersed with novels by other authors. They are mostly set in the 1930s and 1940s, amongst the upper classes of the UK.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of ‘Hot Water’, which I have in an old-style Penguin paperback format, with the price of three shillings and sixpence on the front. Apparently I bought it at a second-hand bookshop, probably about fifteen years ago. I realised quickly that it was not about Jeeves and Wooster, nor related to Blandings Castle. Nor is it a collection of short stories.

Instead, this is set in a French town, in a chateau which is being rented out by the wealthy Mr and Mrs Gedge. Not that he wants to be there at all; he longs for his native California. But his wife clearly rules the roost. At the start of the book, she’s about to travel to the UK to sort out some tax problems, and in her absence various visitors are due to arrive.

Meanwhile in the UK, a wealthy American sportsman known as Packy is bidding a temporary farewell to his fiancée, an attractive woman with very strong opinions, most of which she wants to foist on her beloved. Packy is a likeable young man who hates to say ‘no’ to people. He finds himself cutting the hair of a senator, even though he has no clue what he’s doing, and as a result becomes embroiled with the senator’s daughter Jane, who is engaged to a writer whom Packy’s fiancée very much admires…

If that all sounds confusing, it becomes more so as the book progresses. There’s a large cast of main characters in this book. I found it extremely difficult, at times, to keep track of who was whom. I read a chapter or two each evening, and by the time I was about three-quarters of the way through I had to re-read the first couple of chapters, as I’d completely forgotten some of what had happened.

The story is not meant to be taken seriously; it’s a complex farce, with several people masquerading as someone else. However that makes it even more confusing, when I had to remember not just who the characters were, but who they were pretending to be at any point. While Packy stood out as a likeable, diplomatic soul, and the Senator as a large and grumpy autocrat, I never quite worked out the differences between ‘Oily’ Carlisle and ‘Soup’ Slattery. Nor could I keep on top of who knew whom previously, and in what circumstances.

Still, there’s a great deal that’s amusing in this story, which is written in classic Wodehouse style. There are literary allusions, unexpected encounters, and some cleverly-written fast-paced action. I smiled several times, and by the last couple of chapters was eager to see how everything would resolve itself, and whether the romantic pairings would work out as I hoped.

Recommended if you like PG Wodehouse, but probably preferable to read in one or two sittings rather than over the course of a week or more. It's supposed to be one of his best books, but personally I prefer the Jeeves novels.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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