This beautiful Folio Society Edition of P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith was a Christmas gift from P a few years back (he also got me a gorgeous old edition of Wordsworth poetry because he’s just that wonderful). I’ve never really read any Wodehouse before, although I’ve seen a few of the old Fry and Laurie episodes of Jeeves and Wooster, so I had high hopes.
Perhaps it reflects more on me than it does on the writing but while I acknowledge that Wodehouse is funny, I don’t think (at least based on this book) that he’s quite deserving of all the hype. He’s amusing rather than laugh out loud hilarious, and I very much doubt that he translates well – since his humour is firmly based on upper-class English toffs in roughly 1900. The book is full of peers and people who are worried about making good marriages.
It’s a pleasant enough story, with the eponymous Psmith coming along to solve very minor difficulties in a somewhat bumbling and entirely ridiculous manner. As a result, Psmith is the source of the majority of the humour, with other characters largely unable to decide what to make of him.
I quite liked Lord Emsworth, the character who owns the mansion where the majority of the events take place. He likes flowers and gardening and dislikes being hassled by his sister. His main trial in life is dealing with his gardener, who he disagrees with on many topics, and occasionally his secretary, who asks him to do things. His son, Freddie, is also quite likeable.
Actually, most of the characters are likeable, in one way or another. They’re all daft, and there are a few I wanted to shake, but even the “baddies” aren’t quite totally evil. Partly as a result of this, it’s quite hard to worry about anything untoward happening to anyone.
I guess this is the crux of why I thought that Leave it to Psmith is just ok. It’s humorous, but not hilarious. Things happen, but not many, and nothing too exciting. There is occasional “mild peril.” I remember once reading a quote, and it’s one of my favourite quotes about fiction, so I’ve probably mentioned it before on this blog; “fiction should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” This would certainly do the latter.