Caution: Do not read while drinking hot beverages
After finishing Victor Hugo‘s weighty brick ‘Les Miserables’, I fancied something light and a bit giddy – like the literary equivalent of lemon sorbet to refresh my palette before embarking on my next hefty tome. P.G.Wodehouse was the obvious choice. His novels are a real treat; unapologetically featherlight and exquisitely written. They should come with a caution though – if you read them in public, you risk snorting like a prize sow at a country fair, and for those who like to read in swanky cafes, you are very likely to spray hot coffee out through your nose all over yourself as you uncontrollably honk like an impassioned goose. Consider yourself warned.
I was lucky to land a great stack of Wodehouse novels from the Oxfam bookshop in Haverfordwest recently, and faced with such a delightful choice, I kicked off with ‘Hot Water’, which is set in France in the 1930’s and is chock-full of mistaken identities, jewel-thieves, stylish Americans and clipped Brits. It was hilarious. The description of the haircut from hell given to Senator Opal by the entirely untrained Packy Franklyn, who, mistaken for a barber, feels it would be unsporting not to oblige, had me in tears of laughter. I guffawed so loudly in my car (which was parked at the time, officer!) that passersby stopped and peered in at me to see if everything was alright.
Senator Opal’s voice trailed away in a sort of rasping howl… For the first time, he had scrutinized himself closely in the mirror opposite the chair, and it was plain that what he saw there was having a disastrous effect on his morale …. Packy understood his emotion and sympathized with it. What with being a novice with the scissors and having allowed his concentration to be impaired …. he had undeniably made something approaching a devastated area of that noble white mop. He had shortened it, yes, but he had shortened it in a series of irregular ridges which, though picturesque and interesting, might, he realized, quite easily not appeal to an owner of orthodox views.
The plot twists and builds into fabulous farcical chaos, until order is finally restored. The comedy is stunningly brilliant yet Wodehouse makes it appear effortless. To top it all the language is sublime. For example, many writers might content themselves with the phrase ‘night had fallen’ to set the scene at the opening of a chapter, but not Wodehouse.
Night, sable goddess, from her ebon throne in rayless majesty stretched forth her leaden sceptre o’er a slumbering world.