The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

British TV Series 'Jeeves and Wooster' (Bertie Wooster, left, played by Hugh Laurie; Jeeves, right, played by Stephen Fry)

“Wodehouse, who adored the Pekingese breed of dog, liked to judge people on whether they were sound on Pekes. Evelyn Waugh, who like the Hitch and myself, revered the Master, judged people on how sound they are on Wodehouse,” said Stephen Fry in his eulogy of Christopher Hitchens late last year.

I’m ashamed to say that I wouldn’t be judged too highly by any of those men on that count – the name Wodehouse was only vaguely familiar as someone I knew I should know more about.

So I obediently made my way to the local library to see what they had in stock, which turned out to be one hard-cover copy of The Code of the Woosters, in the ‘large print’ section (just a little embarrassing to read on the bus).

Since then I have also come across several other Wodehouse books in the local bookstore, one of which had an endorsement printed on the cover, again from Stephen Fry (who played Bertie Wooster’s butler Jeeves in the British TV series Jeeves and Wooster based on the books): “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” (Source)

Which I was happy to read after finishing my first Wodehouse book, but not before embarking on this blog post. Of course Jeeves’ irony and Bertie’s penchant for malapropisms had me genuinely laughing out loud. And the image of eyeballs bulging in shock, paintings brought down on the bumbling villain’s head and the overzealous yet inept policeman were all highly familiar to me – themes and characterisations which were probably, it occurred to me, pioneered by Wodehouse himself.

To finish, a confession: I sometimes embark on books from the classics shelf with a some trepidation: Will something in the old-world language, context or sense of humour be lost on me, so that I am unable to give it the appreciation it purportedly warrants? Well, I can safely say that I experienced no such problem with my first encounter with Wodehouse. It was lighthearted fun; clever, situational comedy that I will return to.

And, thanks to Fry, I’ve been let off the hook for making any further analysis.

Making History by Stephen Fry

The fabulous Stephen Fry first came to my attention during a heartfelt speech he gave on religion at the Intelligence Squared debate I was watching for another writer I admire, Christopher Hitchens.

I then realised this same man graces my television every Tuesday evening as host of QI, and then – low and behold – it turns out we even have one of his books on our shelf. Who it belongs to or where it came from I can’t say, but I extracted it with relish, and was immediately engrossed.

Fry’s presence in the pages is evident from the start. You can almost picture him giggling to himself as his larger-than-life characters gradually materialise on the page. The discernible presence of the author might not be ideal, but to learn more about Fry, to gain some insight into the man, is the reason I picked up his book, so I was delighted to find him right there speaking through the silly, lovable Michael Young (aka Puppy) about the past, the future, life, love , hope and regret, and asking, most importantly, what if?

When Michael Young’s history thesis is laughingly rejected by his cheesecloth and rope-soled sandal-wearing professor on the same day his girlfriend disowns him, he meets an intriguing man and makes a decision that will turn not only his life, but the entire world on its head.

Sprinkled with such gems as “the last granules of dream fizz away” and “the cheering of the men grew and swelled inside him until it burst from his eyes in a flood of hot, disgusted tears” and “you could hardly blame a kid who grew up in Cambridge for redesigning himself as a class warrior”, Making History will have you laughing out loud just as soon as it has you vying for revenge or blinking back an unexpected tear.

Broaching the subject of time travel is fraught with difficulties and the potential for unanswerable questions. In this case it works, because this is a book that – like Fry – doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Next on my list of books to read: The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography.