Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In the bar at the Angler's Rest

Mr Mulliner Speaking, P.G. Wodehouse

Thinking about this book, I realized that P.G. Wodehouse, a master storyteller, wrote a lot of stories about storytellers. Does that count as metafiction? The ones set in the Drones Club consist of members recounting the various adventures that have befallen their fellow Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (the title of one such collection). Bertie Wooster often narrates his own adventures, and he occasionally acknowledges his audience: "I don't know if you were among the gang that followed the narrative of my earlier adventures with Gussie Fink-Nottle - " (The Code of the Woosters).

And then there are Wodehouse's two supreme raconteurs, the Oldest Member of the golf stories, and Mr Mulliner, the star of this book and two others. Where the Oldest Member spends his time in the clubhouse and out on the links, Mr Mulliner can usually be found of an evening in the bar-parlour of the Angler's Rest, a glass of hot Scotch and lemon before him. Inevitably, as the conversation flows, he is reminded of a story, most of which involve his nephews and nieces (given the number of these stories, his must be a very extended family). Like the Oldest Member's, the stories are often about young men in love and the difficulties of courtship. In the Mulliner family, the course of true love rarely runs smooth, at least at first. For a change, three of the stories here are about Mr Mulliner's niece Roberta Wickham, who "like so many spirited girls of today . . . is inclined to treat her suitors badly."

Unlike the Oldest Member, whose audience often tries to escape when they feel a story coming on, Mr Mulliner's stories are always welcome. Or almost always - ironically, in this book, he comes across two golfers in the bar, to whom he tells the golfing story of "Those in Peril on the Tee," ignoring their efforts to evade him (the title of that story makes me giggle every time I think of it).

There is just so much fun to be found in Wodehouse, and in such variety. Both "Those in Peril on the Tee" and "The Long Hole" (in The Clicking of Cuthbert) are about a golf match, the outcome of which will decide whom a particular young lady will marry. Wodehouse takes the same setting in two completely different directions, and both in their own way are very funny (I still think "The Long Hole" is the best Wodehouse story ever). I'll just leave you with a quote from the first story in this collection, "The Reverent Wooing of Archibald":

People who enjoyed a merely superficial acquaintance with my nephew Archibald (said Mr Mulliner) were accustomed to set him down as just an ordinary pin-headed young man. It was only when they came to know him better that they discovered their mistake. Then they realized that his pin-headedness, so far from being ordinary, was exceptional. Even at the Drones Club, where the average of intellect is not high, it was often said of Archibald that, had his brains been constructed of silk, he would have been hard put to it to find sufficient material to make a canary a pair of cami-knickers.


  1. That last passage made me snort! I know a few people who are blessed with exceptional pin-headedness myself :) I really want to read Wodehouse, but get overwhelmed when looking at his books. Is there a best place to start?

  2. Oh gosh, Anbolyn, that sent me straight to my Wodehouse shelf. It's a tough question - every Wodehouse reader would probably suggest something different. Maybe Leave It To Psmith, which has one of my favorite characters (Psmith himself) in one of my favorite settings, Blandings Castle. There are lots of Blandings stories, but only one with Psmith. Or there are the stand-alones - Big Money and Summer Moonshine are at the top of my list.


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!