Saturday, May 14, 2011

3. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954) - P.G. Wodehouse

I had slept fitfully on the plank bed which was all that Vinton Street Gestapo had seen their way to provide for the use of clients, so after partaking of a hearty meal I turned in between the sheets. Like Rollo Beaminster, I wanted to forget. It must have been well after the luncheon hour when the sound of the telephone jerked me out of the dreamless. Feeling a good deal refreshed, I shoved on a dressing-gown and went to the instrument.

Wodehouse is perhaps best known for his Jeeves and Wooster series, of which this book is a part of. A hugely popular author, the series documents the life of Bertie Wooster, a wealthy English dandy, and his valet Jeeves. The plots largely revolve around romantic liaisons of the English upper class, often with hilarious (and ingenious) outcomes. However, as this blog post puts it, 'the genius of Wodehouse lies in the brilliance of his prose', one of my favourites being 'She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say "when".'

After being introduced to Wodehouse by my cousin I have fallen absolutely in love with this writer. Never have I come across an author who manages to be incredibly witty, charming, a bit silly but still compelling to read, all at the same time. I know Wodehouse won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I cannot recommend enough that people at least try reading one of his novels, and I only wish that this extract that ended up on page 56 better reflected all that I have said thus far

I have only read the first two novels in this series (although I believe they can be read in any order), and I found that this particular volume was not my favourite of the lot. It was a bit slow in the beginning, and I sometimes deplore the fickle and strange female characters that Wodehouse provides. The men are just as fickle, but they are also more often then not head over heels in love, which I feel explains their flightiness - the heart wants what it wants and what not. But the women tend to be the ones being pursued and likewise appear more firm in their opinions...generally...that is until they decide they'll marry this fella instead due to a hilarious misunderstanding. I definitely prefer less dreamy lovebirds and more Wooster trying to act like the genius he thinks he is and inevitably being saved by the indomitable Jeeves. A bit formulaic in structure, but that is part of the reason why I love Wodehouse (besides him being incredibly funny) because you always know how things will turn out, but can still be surprised by what happens in between. There is something about Wodehouse that calms the soul and brings sunshine into one's life, providing a healing quality that is hard to describe or convey until one has experienced it for ones self. A light and happy read in the best way possible, but if you don't believe me, then listen to Stephen Fry.

I [Fry] think I should end on a personal note. I have written it before and am not ashamed to write it again. Without Wodehouse I am not sure that I would be a tenth of what I am today - whatever that may be. In my teenage years, his writings awoke me to the possibilities of language. His rhythms, tropes, tricks and mannerisms are deep within me. But more than that, he taught me something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind. 
He [Wodehouse] mocked himself sometimes because he knew that a great proportion of his readers came from prisons and hospitals. At the risk of being sententious, isn't it true that we are all of us, for a great part of our lives, sick or imprisoned, all of us in need of this remarkable healing spirit, this balm for hurt minds? 
4 Stars

2. Hotel Babylon (2004) - Imogen Edwards-Jones & Anonymous

His voice peters off into nothing. I don't bother to reply because we are both staring at the main door where Michelle's getting out of a cab, ten minutes late for her exit interview. She is wearing a pair of knee-length boots, flesh-coloured tights and a very short mini skirt. It's a combination not dissimilar to the recently departed Jaguar. She looks a lot more attractive out of the dark suit and light shirt she usually wears on reception. Steve the doorman's mouth hangs open as she swans through the revolving doors, her head held high. Even Dave stops polishing his brass.

The inspiration for the popular British television series of the same name, Hotel Babylon provides a glimpse into the largely unglamorous life of the hospitality industry. Based off the real life experiences of an anonymous hotel worker, the novel presents a series of events compressed into a 24 hour shift. This book provided me with some relatively "light" reading, although I wouldn't quite place it in the same category as chick lit because it is after all still an expose about the reality of working in a hotel. I found the latter quite compelling actually as knowing that these events and even people were factual made me applaud the staff for putting up with the crazy, let alone handling it with politeness and aplomb. Imogen Edwards-Jones is a good writer and the structure of the novel is interesting and easy to read. I'm not rushing off to read the other exposes in this Hotel Babylon series, but I'm not ruling them out of future reading lists either. 

2.5 Stars 

1. The Prestige (1995) - Christopher Priest

I imagine it was part of his design, and enabled him to take certain preparations in the room where the seance was to be conducted. He and his two young assistants, one male and one female, darkened the room with black blinds, moved unwanted furniture to the side while importing some of their own which they had brought with them, rolled back the carpet to bare the floorboards, and erected a certain wooden cabinet whose size and appearance was enough to convince me that conventional stage magic was about to be performed. I stayed discreetly but attentively in the background while these preparations were put in place. I did not wish to make myself at all interesting to the spiritist, because if he was alert he might have recognised me. The previous week my stage act had drawn a favourable press notice or two.

Set in the 19th Century, the book revolves around two stage illusionists, Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, who, after a small confrontation, end up engaging in a bitter feud. As their animosity spirals out of control, it conceals a deeper, darker secret that will haunt the two performers for generations to come.

What I love about this book is that it has many layers to dissect, even after the last page is turned. To be honest when I first finished The Prestige I didn't think it was as great as people had made it out to be. Eerily haunting, yes. Great, no. But then the English Lit nerd in me kicked in and I started to really think about some of the plot lines, the narrative style and the way the story had been constructed as a whole. At times I found it a bit hard to engage in the rivalry between the two illusionists, largely because of the narrative style of the book which took the form of diaries, beginning with one man's life followed by the other. Because of this it was difficult to see the relationship between motivation and action, with only some clarity afforded in the latter half of the novel through Angier's diary where one could retrospectively compare the two men's version of events. I believe this is why I felt unfulfilled, because while by the end you know the secret, the novel still manages to strike you as simply being about the rivalry between two men. But, and this is why I think Priest really is a great storyteller, the secret only takes it's full form in thinking back upon the story, combining the two narratives and that of the illusionists' descendents. Throughout the text Priest drops hints, particularly in the form of key phrases and words, that like the illusionists themselves, are not all they appear to be. In hindsight, these hints absolutely tease you with their obviousness. 
I am particularly reminded of one story that Borden tells about a Chinese illusionist whose secret to his most popular trick is so obvious, that no one suspects it, and it means a lifetime of deception. I find that this is what The Prestige is about - a lifetime of illusions and deceit, with a secret as bright as day at its heart. This novel is well worth the read and I recommend paying attention to the tone and style of the narration, particularly any changes in mood, as well as repeated phrases. I firmly believe that good books are the ones that you can read over and over again, but that the best are the ones that compel you to look again.

Are you looking closely?

4 Stars