A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Not being a dentist turns out to be a stroke of good luck for Jerry. If he were, he would not have been summoned to sit on the jury with the delightful Jane, with whom he falls instantly in love. Only then does the sudden realization that he is already engaged to Vera Upshaw strike him. Vera has been insisting that Jerry is entitled to his inheritance, currently kept in trust by Uncles Crispin and Willoughby. Meanwhile, Willoughby is thrilled at being the proud owner of Gainsborough’s small painting of one of his ancestors, called The Girl in Blue, but when she goes missing, believed stolen, Jerry is called upon to track her down, wherever she may be …
When I mentioned my new focus on Happy Reads for mental wellbeing, my husband was the first to suggest the books of PG Wodehouse. This was fortuitous as we appear to have no less than two boxed sets of him in the house. Not only that but my father was a great fan and I vaguely remember reading some of the offerings from his library but that was several lifetimes ago and I thought it would be lovely to revisit Wodehouse again now. I also have warm memories of the Fry & Laurie TV interpretation of the Jeeves and Wooster tales – all the more so as some of the filming for this took place at the University of London’s Senate House building during the time I worked there, so you can imagine not much work actually got done at those points … So I came to my next Happy Read offerings with great enthusiasm.
And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wodehouse in elegant mode (when is he not?) is very much like reading a novelised Oscar Wilde play of manners. Foppish but charming young men are brought together with determined and charming young women and all is well in the world, eventually. I really loved it and was much cheered by the whole story, finding myself often reading with a smile on my face. Somehow the slightly old-fashioned narrative method, where an overseeing narrator figure is in charge of events all the way through and often comments on them from a godlike position of knowledge – AKA Wodehouse himself, I suspect – is perfectly suited to the style and focus of the novel, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Revel in this description of the local constable indeed:
His aspect was grave. He looked, as always, as if he had been carved from some durable form of wood by someone who was taking a correspondence course in sculpture and had just reached his third lesson.
This book does however seem somewhat quieter in tone than other novels I’ve read, if my memory serves me correctly (and it is a long time ago), but I’m told that The Girl in Blue is a late offering so perhaps Wodehouse was feeling tired. Heck but I know how that feels, so the quietness in this suited me perfectly. The plot involving a missing (or perhaps not so missing!) statuette of a lady is soothing and elegant and perfectly handled, as ever, by the author, though I remained unsure of the value of the policeman in the pond incident, in all honesty. And, whilst the younger characters are perhaps a tad thin, I thoroughly enjoyed the story arc of the older characters – probably more so than that of the younger ones – and found myself relishing the ups and downs of the indomitable Barney and the much beleaguered Crispin. They were fabulous together. Crispin also came out with some wonderfully witty insights:
‘I remember, when I was a boy, Father used to take me round the park at Mellingham and say “Some day, Crispin, all this will be yours.” He ought to have added, “And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”’
Bliss really. Other personality highlights were the evil Vera and her marvellously over-the-top mother, Dame Flora, the latter of whom produced this laugh-out-loud line about attending a literary lunch for a bestselling author she doesn’t particularly admire:
‘The Agee woman told us for three-quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.’
Oh yes, how I can sympathise. Indeed I have a whole list of authors about whom I could well say the same, but my lips must remain sealed, alas …
I was also much taken by the idea of the butler actually being a Debt Collection man keeping a close eye on poor Crispin’s finances – a sort of anti-Jeeves, if you will. The contrast between his supposed profession and his language and attitude was nicely done, and I very much liked the way Crispin’s unwitting guests attempted to rise above it all, on the whole.
So, this is in conclusion a light read, but a pleasant one. It made me smile and, at one stage (see above), even laugh out loud, so very much fulfilled the role I expected of it. Well done, Wodehouse!
Happy Reads Rating: 7 out of 10. Not bad indeed!
The Girl in Blue, Penguin 1984 (this edition), ISBN: 978-0140085075
[Anne has always had a fondness for Wodehouse and is happy to revisit him after an absence of many years. Her other social oddities are of course well-documented.]