Friday, 18 November 2016

P.G. Wodehouse: For Christmas, and Forever

This year - because certain times of year are special times - I took it on myself to take care of everybody’s literary Christmas gift needs, by way of a special little piece of publishing. It's called Highballs for Breakfast: The Very Best of P.G. Wodehouse on the Joys of a Good Stiff Drink

It is, in essence, a compendium of all the nailed-on funniest bits in Wodehouse’s colossal oeuvre that are to do with drinks, drinking and drinkers. It comes in a lush small-format hardback from Hutchinson Books, priced £9.99, and it’s out now. Be assured, it's only about 8% me, more like 92%-proof Wodehouse comedy gold. You don’t have to thank me, you're very welcome, be assured it was nothing but fun.

A common problem with authors who wrote well about alcohol – Scott Fitzgerald, say, or Charles Bukowski – is that often they were alcoholics, with all the misery that entails. Wodehouse, though, flies breezily free of such gloom. One of the great tonics of his famous comic writing is its sense that happiness may be reliably found through the ‘life-restoring fluid’ contained in ‘the magic bottle.’ And a tonic is what this book is meant to be - the gin or vodka component I leave to you.

The i newspaper had a little feature around the book last week, and the Mr Porter website has also given it generous coverage.

When in 1974 MGM released That's Entertainment!, an edited compilation of joyous life-enhancing extracts from the studio's library of great movie musicals, the lobby poster boasted the rather brilliant tagline: ‘Boy. Do we need it now.’ Here in 2016 that’s rather how I feel about my Wodehouse tome. Even more so than usually right now, a stiff drink and a laugh feel like badly-needed solaces, and I can see that being the case for the rest of the decade at least.

On the subject of Wodehouse’s general greatness as a writer: I came to him a little later in life than some, probably because of issues such as a base, brute class-bound prejudice toward books about people who have butlers. In truth it’s been writers of the left from Orwell to Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn who’ve probably done the most to spread Wodehouse’s renown around the houses and constituencies. Once I had properly read and digested works of the order of Right Ho Jeeves, Joy in the Morning and The Code of the Woosters, the scales were off my eyes for keeps. I now like to think I am playing my own minor role in spreading the good word about the great man.

N.B. Any aspiring writer can learn from Wodehouse – his craft and his practice provide models for more than just the comic forms. He noticed things, kept good notebooks, was powerfully curious in company, planned his works meticulously and then drafted and re-drafted them until all was well-minted and ringing. Above all, he persevered, overcame repeated rejection, poured his ideas into new bottles whenever he had to, and kept grafting hard right up to the blessed end.

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