Monday, September 19, 2011

The Girl on the Boat

The Girl on the Boat, P.G. Wodehouse

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that as wonderful as P.G. Wodehouse is, not all his books are created equal.  For me, The Girl on the Boat isn't one of his best.  All the Wodehouse elements are there, but they don't quite come together.

The plot - well, it's tough to do justice to a Wodehouse plot!  This one revolves around two cousins, Eustace Hignett and Sam Marlowe. Eustace is the son of Mrs Horace Hignett, "the world-famous writer on Theosophy" who has come to America on a lecture tour. 
"About this time there was a good deal of suffering in the United States, for nearly every boat that arrived from England was bringing a fresh swarm of British lecturers to the country. Novelists, poets, scientists, philosophers, and plain, ordinary bores; some herd instinct seemed to affect them all simultaneously . . .  on this one point the intellectuals of Great Britain were single-minded, that there was ready money to be picked up on the lecture-platforms of America, and that they might just as well grab it as the next person  . . .  [Mrs Hignett] was halfway across the Atlantic with a complete itinerary booked, before ninety per cent of the poets and philosophers had finished sorting out their clean collars and getting their photographs taken for the passports."
After that marvelous introduction, I had high hopes of Mrs Hignett, but she soon disappears from the story.  In the first chapter, learning that Eustace is to be married that afternoon to a young woman of whom she does not approve, she takes steps to stop the wedding.  Eustace and Sam then sail for England.

Sailing on the same ship is Eustace's jilted fiancĂ©e, Billie.  Despite the presence of her second string suitor, Bream Mortimer, she and Sam fall in love.  They quickly become engaged, but she dumps Sam after he and Eustace muff an appearance at the ship's concert, because she can only love the strong, noble type, a Lancelot or Galahad.  Meanwhile her friend Jane Hubbard, "a splendid specimen of bronzed, strapping womanhood . . . a thoroughly wholesome, manly girl," retiring from life as a big-game hunter, has fallen in love with Eustace.  She wants to settle down with "some gentle clinging man who would put his hand in mine and tell me all his poor little troubles and let me pet and comfort him and bring the smiles back to his face." 

After the ship docks in England, the story follows Sam as he attempts to win Billie back by various complicated stratagems and ruses, all of which fall apart in typical Wodehouse ways.  The story moves between London and the Hignetts' country home, Windles. Eustace has rented the home to Billie's father, with the proviso that he will remain in residence, so that he can be close to Jane.  Adding to the crowd, and the complications, Mortimer and his father are also staying there, in hopes of winning Billie back himself.

This book definitely has its moments of Wodehouse joy, and I'm glad to have read it, but to my mind it can't compare with Uncle Dynamite or Big Money or Leave It To Psmith.

4 comments:

  1. I've never had the pleasure of reading Wodehouse, but the praise of bloggers is going to lead me to him one day. I guess every author has their "off" books - I won't start with this one!

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  2. I hope you do give him a try some day! He is the funniest writer I've ever read, and at the same time his writing is sublime. Probably anyone you ask would have a different suggestion of where to start, and their own favorites among his 100+ books.

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  3. I just bought this at the Borders liquidation! It was so cheap I couldn't pass it up. I'm a big fan of Wodehouse but mostly I've just read the Jeeves and Wooster books and some of the various short stories. They are a hoot though some of them might not be very PC.

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  4. That's right, I remember you posting a picture of your Borders books!

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!