It doesn’t seem quite right to call this a Jeeves and Wooster book, because fully half of the eight stories in it aren’t about Jeeves and Wooster at all. Then again, the remaining stories are all about Reggie Pepper, and he might as well be Bertie Wooster, sans Jeeves. (In fact, I was pretty sure that the creators of the Jeeves and Wooster television show pinched the plot of “Helping Freddie” for the show, but it turns out that P.G. Wodehouse himself had already had that idea when he wrote the Jeeves and Wooster story “Fixing It for Freddie.”)
The Jeeves and Wooster stories in My Man Jeeves are all set in the United States and have Bertie helping his friends out of various jams—and as a result, getting into bigger jams himself. Part of Bertie’s appeal, and most of his problem, is that he’s always willing to help out a pal without any thought to the consequences. Thank goodness Jeeves is always there, helping plan the plans and usually seeing the potential fallout well in advance. And Jeeves has a canny way of quietly manipulating the situation to his own advantage.
Reggie Pepper is not so lucky to have a Jeeves on his side. In fact, his valet, Voules, is the opposite of helpful, and it’s probably a good thing for Reggie that he only appears in one story. But aside from the absence of Jeeves, Reggie’s stories follow much the same pattern as the Jeeves and Wooster ones. A friend is having a crisis, Reggie is called upon to help, and hilarious hijinks ensue.
P.G. Wodehouse’s stories are ideally suited to audio. They’re written so that they feel like they’re being told to you, so having them read aloud is only natural. Bertie and Reggie are two amiable men, telling amusing stories to a friend. The slang, the little asides, all the trappings of oral storytelling are there, all presented in a narrative voice that suits the tellers. Jonathan Cecil, who reads all the stories, gets the tone just right. He even manages to make Bertie and Reggie sound just a bit different from each other, despite the similarities in their characters. I think Reggie’s story-telling style is slightly less formal than Bertie’s, but it’s hard for me to determine how much of this is due to Cecil’s change in voice and how much is due to differences in Wodehouse’s writing.
You might remember that in my review of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, I was rather disconcerted by Cecil’s narration, owing mostly to the fact that as far as I’m concerned Bertie Wooster always has and always will sound just like Hugh Laurie. By the end of listening to that book, I’d gotten used to Cecil’s voice, and that fact that he isn’t Hugh Laurie didn’t trouble me a bit here. I did feel that, especially in the first two Jeeves and Wooster stories, his voice sounded a little too gravelly to be Bertie Wooster’s. And his American accent is terrible—much too harsh and grating. (To my British friends: Do we really sound like that to you? I surely don’t sound like that to me!) I suppose the accent can be forgiven when you consider that these characters are all sort of cartoonish, so exaggerated American accents make sense.
Review copy of My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse obtained through Audiobook Jukebox. Narrated by Jonathan Cecil. 4 hrs., 50 minutes. Audio edition published by AudioGo, 2011.
And now just in case there are a few of you who’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Wooster, this clip includes scenes adapted from the story “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest”: