It took me a long time to finish this relatively short book, but don’t let that soil your impression of its merit. The past 6 weeks have included, among other things, the much-anticipated and long-belated birth of my son. I haven’t felt entirely comfortable going off to read while my wife attempts to fend off the violent affections of two young ladies set on wrestling out their love for mother and new baby brother. I also blame Middlemarch; reading any book in tandem with Middlemarch makes for demotivation by osmosis.
I have been excited to dig into Wodehouse for some time. Having heard many mirthful mentionings of his work, I watched some of the BBC adaptation Jeeves & Wooster, starring the wonderful duo of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. While Heavy Weather follows an entirely different cast of characters, the eases and difficulties of adapting his work for the screen are evident. Both pros and cons draw from his ability to approach all content with such an even and natural comic sensibility.
Heavy Weather follows a large cast of characters as they attempt to gain control of a manuscript of reminiscences which would prove to be very lucrative and excessively embarrassing to almost all existing British nobility if published. Miscommunication and dumb-luck continue to keep everyone fumbling for control of said manuscript throughout most of the book, with many awkward interactions and side stories. Move by move, each pawn finds something at stake on one side or the other and occasionally on both. It is like reading a season of Downton Abbey written like Arsenic And Old Lace or Harvey. This type of story does not urge one to find out what happens next. It reads like a walk in the country, taken in for the paced experience rather than the end result. There are plenty of unexpected moments, but the plot is convoluted rather than climactic.
As a writer of many plays and comic musicals, Wodehouse makes the actions and reactions at hand in this novel flow as if written for players on a stage. The book is full of fast-paced comic miscommunication, failing strategizing, and diplomatic family blundering. He writes visually and his evocative scenes, comic dialogue, and eccentric characters make ideal performance material.
It is this singular whimsical writing style which is so central to his work that also remains in many ways untranslatable. He describes thoughts, appearances, and concepts as well as he does visual experiences and often time these are the best bits. This means that at least half of what makes this work so remarkably enjoyable remains staunchly text-based. He also uses huge amounts of period-specific British slang, which may make trouble or hinder enjoyment for some readers.
Wodehouse was a consumate writer. He wrote almost as compulsion, continuing his career into his 90’s. He has a remarkable unique voice as a humorist that does not seem contrived or even niche. Reading his work quickly feels like listening to a hilarious old pal recount familiar stories. This is, in fact, a characteristic tendency for some member’s of his cast. These mannerisms, in the author and in his characters, helps make his writing universal yet unique.
Overall, I would suspect that most who enjoy period fiction and indulgent language-building will be able to appreciate this book. It may leave those hungry for significant plot a little empty-stomached, but one cannot help loving and loathing the characters and their antics, even if the last page makes you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail all this time.
Wodehouse is a light read for those who occasionally prefer to take reading lightly.
“The Railway Children” by E. Nesbit