Jill the Reckless, by P.G. Wodehouse

The books, characters, and settings for which Wodehouse is best known all seem to inhabit an odd world of their own–a world in which young men can subsist for seemingly years on an occasional fiver or tenner from a wealthy friend, or an occasional win at the track, while remaining immaculately dressed at all times, a world where imposters, prize pigs, and absurdly ludicrous situations are a dime-a-dozen.

And then there are books like this one–a romantic comedy, yes, but one
that appears to be about real people, living in the real world. Better
yet, it’s set in the New York City musical comedy scene, a time and place
that Wodehouse knew intimately well.

As the book opens, it feels like a Bertie Wooster story. Freddie Rooke, the “Last of the Rookes” as Bertram is the “Last of the Woosters”, awakes with a sore head from a night of revelry. And like Bertie, he’s young, irrepressible, not overly bright, well-off financially, possessed of a competent valet, the estimable Barker, and inclined to help out his chums any way he can. He has a house guest, an old school friend named Sir Derek Underhill, who that very day will be introducing his fiancee, the lovely, generous, and talented Jill Mariner, to his mother Lady Underhill, a typical Wodehouse dragon. Sir Derek is a Member of Parliament, and has the fierce eye and visage of a Roderick (Spode or Glossop, take your pick), but he simply can’t face up to his mother.

And then Jill is arrested for standing up for an abused parrot, and coincidentally loses her trust fund, and thanks to an appalling dinner, an appalling play, and some appalling “help” from Freddie, Sir Derek breaks the engagement.

And then, faced with destitution, Jill embarks on a series of absurd schemes intended to provide herself with a bit of the ready–well, no, she doesn’t. That’s what would happen in a tale of Bertie Wooster. Jill, on the other hand, copes admirably. With their last few pounds in hand, Jill and her uncle, Major Selby, take ship for New York City, where Jill (aided by the owner of the parrot) takes a job in the chorus of a new musical comedy and gets on with her life–and continues to renew her acquaintance with a striking young man, the author of the appalling play mentioned above, who is called in to help fix up the new show.

It’s a romantic comedy, as I say, and the usual Wodehouse skill with the language is in full flower; I laughed frequently. But it simply isn’t a farce, and in many ways is all the better for it. The only book I can compare it (of those I’ve read to date) is Picadilly Jim, which was written just a few years earlier and similarly involved “real” people and situations; but here Wodehouse uses a lighter touch, and seems altogether more sure of himself.

Anyway, I enjoyed it immensely (no surprise there) and I might well read
it aloud to Jane in the not-too-distant future.

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