White Feather (by PG Wodehouse)

I have long been a fan of PG Wodehouse, best known for his satirical novels about the upper-class Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. It’s only since having a Kindle, however, that I have discovered that Wodehouse wrote many other books in addition to the Jeeves and Blandings Castle series with which I was familiar. I have downloaded several from Project Gutenberg, and tend to read one each time we travel.

On a recent flight, I decided to read ‘White Feather’. I had no clue what it was about; the advantage of an ebook is that there’s no ‘blurb on the back’ to encourage or discourage me from opening it. Had I known this was about a boy in a boarding school who decided to take up boxing, I would probably have moved on and never tried it. This would have been a pity, as it was, on the whole, an enjoyable book.

It opens with discussion of sports, in jargon which made little sense to me, but I got the general gist: sports used to be done well at the school but several talented students have left. The current sports captain is rather depressed as the school is losing its matches, and doesn’t seem to have more than a handful of good players.

We then switch to focussing on Sheen, a studious boy who is not particularly keen on sports, other than ‘fives’, a game I had not previously heard of. Quick research tells me it’s a game played in public schools with a hard ball being hit by a gloved hand. He’s not particularly popular, but is beginning to make one or two casual friends when an incident happens which brands him a coward by the rest of the school - and leads to his being ignored (‘cut’) by almost everyone.

Another chance incident leads to Sheen meeting a former boxing champion who agrees to give him some lessons. The eventual outcome of the book is then somewhat predictable, with a few Wodehouse style twists and turns along the way. It’s not a humorous book; in many ways it’s quite depressing, although I hope that today’s public schools are less unpleasant places than they were a hundred or so years ago. But Sheen is an interesting character, and his gradual development and determination made it worth reading, even though his lifestyle is so far removed from anything I have ever experienced.

Unlike the better-known Wodehouse works, this does not stay in print in paperback form, although there are a couple of Kindle editions. But since it can be downloaded free from Project Gutenberg, I would recommend that option.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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