The magic trick:
Building a story around comic setpieces
Another August, another birthday, another trip to Blandings Castle (my chosen birthday gift to myself).
Sadly, this story really isn’t prime Blandings. I still enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to the uninitiated.
Wodehouse’s heart doesn’t seem to be in it. He lines up three or four would-be hilarious setpieces. We’ve got rats. We’ve got a classy social hour interrupted by a dogfight. We have Freddy eating a dog biscuit, for goodness sake!
All of it feels like it should be funny. None of it quite lands. It’s as if Wodehouse mapped it out on one his famed story outlines, but once he got to the actual writing, didn’t find any spark to the scenes. He starts and finishes them quickly, without letting them ramp up to true chaotic hilarity. The pacing of the story, as a result, is off.
And even with all that said, it’s a breezy, enjoyable 22 pages. It’s still a happy birthday for me.
Comic setpieces – even those that don’t fully materialize – make for fun reading.
And that’s quite a trick on Wodehouse’s part.
The Hon. Freddie Threepwood was not present. And that fact alone, if one may go by the views of his father, Lord Emsworth, should have been enough to make a success of any party.
And yet beneath this surface of cosy peace troubled currents were running. Lady Alcester, gazing at Gertrude, found herself a prey to gloom. She did not like the way Gertrude was gazing at Orlo Watkins. Gertrude, for her part, as the result of her recent conversation with the Hon. Freddie, was experiencing twinges of remorse and doubt. Lady Constance was still ruffled from the effect of Lady Alcester’s sisterly frankness that evening on the subject of the imbecility of hostesses who deliberately let Crooning Tenors loose in castles. And Lord Emsworth was in that state of peevish exasperation which comes to dreamy old gentlemen who, wishing to read of Pigs, find their concentration impaired by voices singing of Roses.