55. TMTF Reviews: Joy in the Morning

A friend once told me the following story. Several of the most respected writers in the world were asked to compile a list of the one hundred best books ever written. One of these writers supposedly replied, “Well, P.G. Wodehouse wrote ninety-seven books in his lifetime, so it only remains to us to come up with three more books for the list.”

I’m not sure whether this story is true, but it definitely could be. P.G. Wodehouse is one of the funniest writers in the history of writers who are funny. Every time I read one of his books I feel deep admiration, almost reverence, for his effortless command of the English language. I also feel profound envy. I wish I had Wodehouse’s gift for writing.

Admiration and envy, however, are always my secondary responses to books by Wodehouse—my first reaction is invariably amusement, often manifested in raucous laughter.

I recently happened upon a copy of Joy in the Morning, a novel by P.G. Wodehouse. I decided to read it for two reasons. First, it had been a long time since TMTF reviewed a new book. Second, it was a novel by P.G. Wodehouse—’nuff said.

Joy in the Morning is vintage Wodehouse: a character gets into a sticky social situation that gets progressively stickier and stickier, only to be rescued at the last moment by a clever friend or a lucky turn of events.

The novel is the memoir of Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, a London resident who becomes engaged (entirely by mistake) to an domineering lady named Florence. Her previous fiancée views Bertie as a traitorous sneak and expresses a strong desire to pull out his insides and trample on them. A few other dreadful characters—Bertie’s short-tempered Uncle Percy and horrible cousin Edwin, for example—blunder onto the scene to complicate matters further. The whole crisis is overshadowed by the looming threat of Bertie’s Aunt Agatha, described by Bertie as “my tough aunt, the one who eats broken bottles and conducts human sacrifices by the light of the full moon.”

Bertie is trapped in a dreadful mess, and only one person has any hope of rescuing him: his valet, a dignified, philosophical gentleman known only as Jeeves.

Joy in the Morning is predictably Wodehousian. Bertie’s hopeless troubles are solved at the last instant by a clever plan from Jeeves, and happy endings are “distributed in heaping handfuls.” It’s the same old Jeeves-and-Wooster formula with few unexpected surprises—but that’s not a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes, and Wodehouse’s traditional pattern certainly ain’t broke.

The novel has only one weakness. It would be misleading to call it a fault or defect; it’s more of a quirk or idiosyncrasy. Joy in the Morning is very, very British. Consider this quote from Bertie on the very first page: “I saw no ray of hope. It looked to me as if the blue bird had thrown in the towel and formally ceased to function. And yet here we are, all boomps-a-daisy. Makes one think a bit, that.” For some readers, British slang is delightfully quaint. For other readers, however, it may simply be confusing.

Though some American readers may be puzzled by its Britishness, Joy in the Morning is a superb comic novel, a classic work from one of the greatest humorists ever to have picked up a pen. Together with Sherlock Holmes, Ebenezer Scrooge and other legends of British literature, Jeeves and Wooster are among the best literary characters Britain has ever produced. I strongly recommend Joy in the Morning.

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