Thursday, September 17, 2015

Problem solver

Cocktail Time, published in 1958 and relatively late in P.G. Wodehouse's career, may not rank among his best (make that funniest) novels. Even so, it tells a lively, satisfying story that true Wodehouse fans will enjoy.

The Earl of Ickenham, sometimes just called Uncle Fred, plays a supporting role in a number of Wodehouse novels, but in this one he gets the starring role. Essentially he plays the part Jeeves has in the Jeeves and Wooster tales, the genius who resolves all problems by the end of the story. But the earl is also the one who creates many of these problems in the first place when, to prove he can still handle a catapult as well as he could as a boy, knocks off the top hat worn by Sir Raymond Bastable, a grumpy barrister. Somehow this prompts Bastable to write a novel called Cocktail Time under an assumed name, not wanting to damage his career because the novel is something of a potboiler. He gets his nephew, Cosmo Wisdom, to take credit for writing the book, hoping the royalties from it will stop Cosmo from continually coming to him for money. Of course, the novel becomes a bestseller, with Hollywood offering big bucks for the movie rights.

Throw in a couple of con artists, a lovesick butler and a variety of other characters with seemingly unsolvable problems, and Uncle Fred has his hands full. His methods may seem unorthodox, such as suggesting the butler lock Bastable in his wine cellar, but somehow they all work.

The best part of any Wodehouse novel is not the story itself but the way Wodehouse tells it. Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book:

"There was a brief pause while she seemed to contemplate the adjective, weighing it as Roget might have done if someone had suggested adding it into his Thesaurus."

"There's nothing like getting married. It's the only life, as Brigham Young and King Solomon would tell you, if they were still with us."

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