Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Good Walk Redeemed - The Clicking of Cuthbert by PG Wodehouse

I confess in my time to having disgraced the game of golf with my feeble attempts to bash a white ball more than a hundred yards in a straight line. The addiction's obvious to me, at my level the majority of shots will dispirit and darken my soul but just once or twice per round there's a shot that makes you think that there's a glimmer of hope in keeping at the game after all. It's sporting crack, and just as ruinously expensive if you're capable of losing as many games as I. It's always good to know one of your favourite authors was a fellow sufferer, and if he never picked up a club in his life, The Clicking of Cuthbert demonstrates PG Wodehouse had the invaluable quality in a writer of being a convincing fibber.

It's near pointless describing what I love about Wodehouse, mostly because it's liable to be much the same as everyone else does. I could bore for hours on his genius at constructing literary farce with an incredible lightness of touch. I could say how it's the construction and maintenance of a perfectly realised little world with laws bordering on the inevitability of physics relating to how things will turn out, particularly when aunts are involved. An England that probably never existed, but along with early Waugh, seems the default image of the English inter-war years. And even his willingness to take a chance on writing for Mills & Boon. No matter the characters - Psmith, the inhabitants of Blanding or Jeeves and Wooster - you know roughly what you're going to get. A perfectly constructed story from a man whose style defines literary elegance.

Wodehouse's golf tales do benefit from a certain knowledge of the sport, but it's not absolutely essential, particularly when the golfing slang he uses here had changed so much over a century. Golf is merely the backdrop to the usual sort of story Wodehouse wants to tell, uniting couples against unlikely social odds in the titular story and The Rough Stuff, providing a solid chap with a triumph over a blackguard in Ordeal By Golf and an upstart getting his comeuppance in The Heel of Achilles. Only the last story, The Coming of Gowff, varies from Wodehouse's usual themes, telling a golf story in the style of the Arabian Nights.

It wouldn't do to fail to mention the Oldest Member here, who narrates all but that last story. He's undoubtedly a stereotype of the type of old member who'll happily bore fellow members over a snifter in the bar, but in Wodehouse's hands he's another well rounded comic gem, albeit not as likable as Wodehouse's better known characters thanks to his garrulous nature. Like listening to the Oldest Member then, it'll pass some hours but it's hardly essential and best left until you've exhausted Wodehouse's better known works.

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