The last time audiences got to read of Bertram Wooster and his faithful butler, Jeeves, was in P.G. Wodehouse’s final novel, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, published in 1974. Since then, the characters have been broadcast on radio, put to the small screen, and even staged for their very own musical, but sadly, not for a new original adventure. Enter British humorist Ben Schott, who with the blessing of the Wodehouse estate has given Jeeves and Bertie a breath of fresh air with Jeeves and the King of Clubs, appropriately subtitled “a novel in homage” to the celebrated author.
Jeeves and the King of Clubs opens with Bertram Wooster excited for the return of his faithful GPG (Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman), the titular Jeeves who has been away on a relaxing fishing expedition. Upon his butler’s return, little time is lost to a plodding beginning, as both Jeeves and Bertie are called to Jeeves’s former employer, Lord MacAuslan, thereby initiating the plot almost immediately. Jeeves is revealed to be part of a network of Servant-Spies, and MacAuslan calls upon his services once more. However, more than Jeeves’s assistance will be needed to track the treacherous movements of the infamous Lord Sidcup, Roderick Spode, and Bertie finds himself entangled in the plot to gather intel on Spode’s rising fascist movement.
Complicating matters is Bertie’s unusual inability to say “no” to family and friends, which thrusts him into several subplots, including but not limited to: Aunt Dahlia’s scheme to create a Worcestershire sauce that will rival Lea and Perrins; Uncle Tom’s attempt to save his silver from being auctioned off to a nemesis; and going to extraordinary lengths to play matchmaker for his friend, Montague Montgomery.
Naturally, the author takes liberties with coincidence, as all of these subplots inevitably tie into the main crisis, so that nothing can be written off as a pointless digression. This might require a leap of faith from the reader, but the subplots are so much fun that it’s easy to forgive the extra stretch required of our suspension of disbelief.
As it is with most of Jeeves and Bertie’s stories, the time period is vague enough to suggest it is somewhere between the great world wars, which works to offer an eerie parallel with some of our current political trends. The villainous Spode may function as a product of his era, but he also acts as a profound commentary on today’s jingoistic tendencies often disguised under the banner of Nationalism. His self-aggrandizing and buffoonish attitudes make a comical point that won’t easily be lost on today’s readers. Other minor characters, such as Lord MacAuslan’s niece Iona, work as positive examples of progressive attitudes in a society emphasizing a return to tradition, which adds to the surprising bit of depth Schott infuses into his take on Wodehouse’s celebrated duo, allowing it to satisfy beyond expectations.
It should be noted that Jeeves and the King of Clubs isn’t a reboot, but a continuation of the characters’ previous installments, though that won’t bother new readers. Likewise, whether or not its canon doesn’t necessarily matter either, as Schott’s story is intended as an homage and shouldn’t offend Wodehouse purists. Because of this, the novel has something for everyone, as Bertie Wooster’s narration offers enough context for the uninitiated without encumbering familiar readers with an exhausting amount of exposition. In fact, the only real challenge presented to readers is the expert use of wordplay and diction; it will be handy to keep a thesaurus close by.
If that seems daunting, I’d say make the effort. Half of the comedy in Jeeves and the King of Clubs comes from the expert use of vocabulary, and the more you know, the funnier it gets. Wooster is a low-brow everyman in high-brow attire, and Jeeves is the perfect straight-man for their dynamic duo. The plot gets convoluted at times, and by its conclusion even the novel itself asks whether all of this was really necessary. The short answer, of course, is the better question: Does it matter? Any excuse to revisit Jeeves and Bertie will do, and if Schott’s book encourages readers to better acquaint themselves with P.G. Wodehouse, he can commend himself for a job well-done.