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Driving with Wodehouse

January 9, 2009 |  2:02 pm


In 2009 my schedule is such that I am now stuck in traffic far more than I was in 2008. And while I love listening to the radio, there's nothing worse than hearing the entire NPR news cycle a second time. So when I found myself at a library branch with rows and rows of books on CD, I thought, hey, there's the ticket!

Indeed, it was not a thriller or mystery or even a classic like Dickens that I decided on but one of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories -- "The Mating Season," to be exact. In it, Bertie Wooster gets into all kinds of trouble, and of course Jeeves winds up quietly restoring order.

As I had hoped, it had me laughing to myself in the car, no doubt making me appear rather mad to nearby drivers. My edition is read by an actor named Jonathan Cecil, which seemed oh-so-British.

But overall, I fear that Bertie Wooster's antics are not well suited for audio. First, there are just too many characters for one actor to portray -- they begin to overlap and bleed into each other. There are, in "The Mating Season," five aunts who talk to each other. And they're minor characters. In one chapter, Catsmeat begins complaining but by the time he's finished he sounds exactly like Bertie. And in this book, so much of the plot moves around impersonation and mistaken identity that it's like listening to one person try to do all of "Much Ado About Nothing." It just becomes indecipherable.

But it is still P.G. Wodehouse, who can whip past a line that's funnier than whole other books. Take, for example, this naming of the six types of hangover, which gets no further elaboration.

I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover—the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his manner suggested that he had got them all.

Have a good weekend. Try to avoid the Gremlin Boogie.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves in the series "Jeeves and Wooster." Credit: ITV