The Short Version: Alan Blair, a young writer, is struggling a bit in life – so he hires a valet whose name, not surprisingly, is Jeeves. Jeeves steps in and helps Alan sort out his life… at least, a little. He ends up at a writer’s retreat, ostensibly to work on his next novel, but Jeeves has his hands full keeping his master on the straight and narrow with such dangers as booze, pot, and large-nosed women about.
The Review: Jonathan Ames, the man behind Bored to Death, is also apparently a novelist of some repute. P.G. Wodehouse has written many humorous novels, many of which include the dynamic duo of Jeeves and Wooster. Somewhere, I missed both of them. Yes, it’s true: I’ve never read Wodehouse, although I’ve seen the Fry & Laurie version of Jeeves & Wooster. This is a failing and I’m well aware. After all, I’ve always sort of wanted a valet – and I certainly have pretensions not unlike those of a gentleman like Bertie (…or Alan).
So here’s the riff: Alan, a 30 year old novelist with one novel behind him (published at 23 to moderate acclaim and then it disappeared rather quickly), has degenerated into a bit of an alcoholic mess. He’s moved in with this aunt and uncle in New Jersey after getting out of rehab and in order to sort his life out (and with the generous settlement from an insurance payout), he puts out an ad for a valet. One named Jeeves shows up and he’s hired basically on the spot.
There’s a vague question of whether or not Jeeves is real. No one else really interacts with him and he consistently sort of shimmers into existence when he’s needed. Of course, he also seems to accomplish actual physical tasks and what-not… so it’s a bit hazy. Of course, the end – which appears to be a car accident – also seems very hazy. It’s all a bit hazy, really. This is a novel replete with blackouts, drunken and stoned imaginings, and other writerly flights of fancy. Alan is very good with a quip and is a thoroughly entertaining narrator. His highbrow commentary, despite being somewhat rather middle-class, appeals to my own sense of being born into a life lower than my mental status – to put it in the English way. He goes on a riff at one point about being an Anglo-Anglophile – he wants to be an ANGLOPHILE, not a Brit. Or something.
The book is a bit much at times, I must admit. But Ames is aware of that, too: the regular referencing of the Jewish Question and the problems of being a Jew gets a bit wearying… and then suddenly Alan is pontificating to Jeeves about how he, were he not Jewish, would tire of the way that the Jewish people are overrepresented in the world. It’s a sly wink and while it doesn’t sort out the problem (that the novel is still kind of tiring when it goes down those well-trod paths), it’s at least acknowledging it and having some fun with it.
The depiction of alcohol use in the novel is also quite entertaining. I mean, yes, Alan has a drinking problem. That much is quite clear. But he has a drinking problem in the way that college kids joke about having a drinking problem. I’m well aware that alcoholism is a serious thing – but I’m also not above laughing at it. Alan does stupid, stupid things (like calling a “call this number for a good time” scrawl, driving into town, trying to steal a bust) while drunk and blacks out regularly. But it’s hilarious to watch him try to stay sober. The aforementioned drive into town, where he and two other residents of the Rose Colony pretend to be space explorers, is sheer brilliance. It’s a perfectly captured moment of simultaneously how much fun you think you’re having and how stupid everyone else thinks you are when you get stoned. And drinking obviously doesn’t help.
If I had any complaints with the novel (other than it going on a bit), I’d say that the ending felt unfinished. Not unfinished – an ending is an ending, regardless of how well it does at tying things up – but rushed. The story moved at a relatively slow pace, really. It only takes place over a week, although (as Alan winkingly points out) it feels as though it must’ve been much more time. But then, suddenly at the end, everything that has happened is sort of undone and we’re left with nothing. That’s honestly how I felt: as though I’d dropped the book out of my hands but was still holding the shape in the air. It just sort of feels as though there’s nothing to take away other than a wittily written riff on the old Jeeves story.
Rating: 4 out of 5. I found it quite funny and a lovely diversion, although a bit more serious in tone at times than I’d hoped. Ames is a funny writer and one who brings a surprising amount of pathos to things (see: Bored to Death) – so I guess I shouldn’t’ve been surprised. Nothing much else to be said about the book, sir – very good, sir.