Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bachelors Anonymous by PG Wodehouse

Waterloo.
 PG Wodehouse wrote many books, and I've yet to stumble upon a dud. Bachelors Anonymous is not his greatest work, but it's perfectly enjoyable and (written two years before his death in 1975) shows the usual Wodehouseian consistency of form. It's the last in a group of books featuring Ivor Llewellyn, mega-motion-picture magnate, who Wodehouse fans will remember from the Monty Bodkin books. Ivor Llewellyn, though strong-minded and fabulously wealthy, has one fatal weakness: he turns into a jelly in the presence of women. He can't make conversation, and by the time he's exhausted the subject of the weather, he's driven in desperation to the only other conversational gambit he knows, one that won't fail to get the fair hearer's attention: a proposal of marriage.

Bachelors Anonymous opens with Llewellyn setting off to England after his fifth divorce, farewelled by his trusty lawyer Ephraim Trout. Trout, worried about Llewellyn's future, discloses a secret: he is a member of a society of bachelors who are determined to kick the marriage habit...and to prevent any young man they meet from contracting it, by any means necessary. On Trout's advice, Llewellyn agrees to hire a bodyguard to protect him from Vera Dalrymple, the autocratic actress who's trying to lure him to a romantic candlelit restaurant. He picks the down-and-out young playwright Joe Pickering, who has just fallen catastrophically in love with Sally Fitch, a reporter who's just inherited a fortune on the condition that she not smoke for two years. And, to complicate matters, there's the genteel lady detective hired to keep an eye on Sally, plus the latter's despicable ex-fiance, Sir Jaklyn Warner. Mr Trout soon arrives in London to keep an eye on Llewellyn personally, and the two of them decide to scotch the burgeoning Pickering-Fitch romance for the causes of bachelorhood. An imbroglio, of course, ensues, complete with comical misunderstandings and even a confirmed bachelor meeting his Waterloo.

Though not up to the standard of his best novels (such as Leave it to Psmith, Right Ho Jeeves, and The Code of the Woosters), Bachelors Anonymous is a happy, absurd little thing with plenty to like about it. In Wodehouse's later years, he sometimes let himself slip so far as to actually express an opinion occasionally, and I came across this little gem on page 35:
"What do you think I ought to do? What would you do if you were me? About Charlie?"
"You can't go by what I'd do," said Sally. "I'm the meek, yielding type. I'd tell myself I had promised to honour and obey the poor fish, so why not get started. I suppose a lot depends on the man. Is Charlie one of those tough domineering characters who thump the desk and shout 'Listen to me. Once and for all...'?"
"Oh, no, he's not a bit like that. He says, 'Anything that will make me happy'."
"But he wants you to chuck your job?"
"Yes."
"Then chuck it, honey, chuck it. A man like that is worth making a sacrifice for."
A late Wodehouse I've always had a fondness for, I recommend Bachelors Anonymous to Wodehouse fans, though not necessarily as an introduction to his work.

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