Uncle Dynamite - P.G. Wodehouse (1948)

There are two, no make that three, kinds of people in the world. Those that love P.G. Wodehouse, those that don't get it, and those who haven't read him. Let me speak to each of them in turn.

If you love P.G. Wodehouse, you will enjoy Uncle Dynamite, for it is Wodehouse being Wodehousian. You might like it less than the Jeeves stories, or more than them. Less than his golf stories or better. But, ultimately, it is Wodehouse and you will like it.

If you don't get Wodehouse, then you won't like Uncle Dynamite for all the same reasons.

Ah, but if you are in that third category, you have either a great treat or a sad dissappointment in store!

Wodehouse is one of the great stylists of the English language. His technique and tone are inimitable and gems of something which seems to veer dangerously close to nonsense without ever quite falling off that particular verbal cliff. His stories are bubbling froth, delicate confections - like a Champagne sundae or carbonated whipped cream. The plots are universally ludicrous and contrived, the stuff of farce. If there is not a case of mistaken identity, a pair (or two or three) of star-crossed lovers and usually some sort of activity which is not, strictly speaking, legal then it's almost certainly not a Wodehouse book that you're reading. Perhaps you picked up something by Dostoevsky by accident. Wodehouse himself referred to his work as "musical comedies without music," which should tell you something.

This particular novel features the Fifth Earl of Ickenham ("Uncle Fred") striving to reunite his nephew with the woman that Lord Ickenham is sure is the right one for him. That this all involves breaking up his nephews current engagement, impersonating South American explorers, breaking into English country houses belong to old school chums and several plaster busts makes perfect sense once you enter the delirous world that Wodehouse has created. Everything is resolved tidily enough at the end, of course, but the trip from here to there is delightful and fraught with all sorts of calamity.

Is Wodehouse serious? No. Is it serious comedy? Absolutely. This is not comedy which functions by being shocking or extreme, Wodehouse does not work blue, rather it is diaphanous comedy spun out of wit and words.

And for those of that like this sort of thing, this is sort of thing we like. If you've never read Wodehouse, try it, you might like it. Try nearly anything he's ever written and you'll get the idea about whether or not you will quick enough. The Jeeves stories are the easiest to find and usually considered the best. I'd suggest leaving Ukbridge and PSmith till later, but aside from those, anything goes.

Back to Uncle Dynamite, though. It's a fairly solid piece of Wodehouse, which is pretty good by anyone's standards. If you want to start with this one, you'll be fine.

Overall Grade: B+

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