From time to time I have a go at the Spectator literary competition. A couple of weeks ago the set task was based on the fact that Sebastian Faulks has been roped in by the Wodehouse estate to write a new Jeeves novel. We were asked to imagine the reaction of the characters on discovering that they were under new management. I’m rather chuffed this morning to discover my effort among the winners. Here it is:
We Woosters are a placable tribe, but can be forthright when rudely awakened.
‘What’s that bally racket, Jeeves?’
‘The noise sir? Birdsong.’
‘Not that noise. I mean the one that sounded like a nine-inch shell exploding at close range.’
‘A perceptive simile, sir. It was indeed such a shell, and uncomfortably near. Our new proprietor has placed us on the Western Front.’
‘Why on earth should he do that?’
‘He likes to inform his readers that war is both unpleasant and futile.’
‘Don’t they know that already?’
‘He is not, sir, a man who fears stating the obvious.’
‘Grim news, Jeeves. We’ll come through, won’t we?’
Jeeves hesitated: ‘He is, I fear, considerably fonder of pathos than the previous incumbent.’
At which a captain popped a cheerful head round the dugout door. ‘What ho! My name’s Sassoon. Has it ever occurred to you that the stars are God’s Very lights?’
These sequels to popular classics are proliferating madly, and so are money-spinners, presumably. There are an enormous number of Jane Austen sequels around, I gather. There are also jokey versions. My daughter tried reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which she said was quite funny for three pages, but then went on for a couple of hundred.
In my time, I’ve read a few attempts to add to the Sherlock Holmes canon. Some passed the time agreeably, but none were memorable. Sometimes one author has taken over another’s franchise completely – Barry Perowne continuing the adventures of Raffles, or Sydney Horler keeping Bulldog Drummond slugging baddies for a good few years after Sapper’s death.
What I find odd is when a totally different sort of writer gets roped in to produce a sequel. A year or two back Andrew Motion was commissioned to write a follow-up to Treasure Island (despite being about the least yo-ho-ho person one can imagine). I gather that the finished work conveys the message that money cannot buy you happiness. I bet the kids are amazed to learn that.
As for Faulks, he’s a very different kind of writer from Wodehouse. Maybe he’ll do it well, but today’s Wodehouse enthusiasts often make me cringe. I saw the first episode of the recent Blandings series on TV, and it was not only outrageously over-acted, but quite missed the point of Wodehouse. It began with a fart joke, and ended with a poo joke. Oh dear.