Sunday, September 03, 2006

27. The Luck of the Bodkins

by P.G. Wodehouse

Let me see if I can get The Luck of the Bodkins straight. Monty Bodkins and Gertrude Butterwick are engaged. While on vacation in Cannes, Monty is writing a letter to his love when he asks American entertainment maven Ivor Llewellyn how to spell “sciatica.” Just at this moment Llewellyn’s sister-in-law is encouraging him, at the request of his wife to smuggle a jeweled necklace past Customs so they won’t have to pay duty fees. Shortly thereafter Monty receives a telegram from Gertrude breaking their engagement. Llewellyn’s convinced Monty’s a Customs spy.

All end up on a boat heading for America, along with Gertrude and her two cousins Ambrose and Reggie Tennyson. Also on board is Lotus “Lottie” Blossom, actress and part of Llewellyn’s production company. After some prodding, Monty learns that Gertrude broke off the engagement owning to a bare-chested picture of him showing a tattooed heart around the name “Sue.” Monty explains that Sue was a woman with whom he had a failed engagement and only the tattoo remains. The two reconcile. At some point Monty gives Gertrude a Mickey Mouse doll with a screw-top head that becomes the bane of their relationship.

Now, Ambrose and Lottie are in love but Ambrose won’t marry the actress because she makes more money than him and his manhood won’t allow for that (the publication date is 1935 so I’ll let that anti-feminist dog lie). Lottie convinces Llewellyn to take Ambrose on as a writer, thus enabling their marriage. Reggie’s been assigned to the room next to Lottie and for some reason I can’t remember, Reggie switches rooms with Monty which leaves Monty in a room with lipstick words written across the bathroom wall. Of course, when Gertrude sees this, as she inevitably does despite Monty’s efforts otherwise, she breaks their engagement again.

Monty’s in a similar situation with Gertrude in that her father won’t let the two marry unless Monty has a job. Never mind that Monty is set for life with money earned from an inheritance, Gertrude’s father insists on a steady income to support his daughter. After losing several jobs, Monty earns his employment in a detective agency for which he doesn’t actually do any work but simply appears on the books as employed to assuage Gertrude’s father. Once Llewellyn gets wind of Monty’s detective career, he immediately sets about befriending faux-investigator and offering him a position in his company. At some point on the boat trip, also for reasons I can’t remember but probably because Gertrude has broken up with him again, Monty sends his resignation notice to the detective agency and Llewellyn’s job offer becomes important once the engagement is back on.

Reggie’s love life is also dependent on Llewellyn as he and Llewellyn’s sister-in-law, Mabel Spence, have fallen in love, but Reggie’s family has packed him off to Montreal to force him into an office job. Being employed by Llewellyn is his only chance at happiness with Mabel. Basically, everyone’s livelihood depends on Llewellyn’s money and he’s willing, although irritated, to comply as long as he believes that Monty is an undercover Customs agent.

The Mickey Mouse comes into play when, over the course of breaking and reentering their engagement, the doll gets passed back and forth between Monty and Gertrude as a sort of physical representation of the state of their relationship. When Lottie gets hold of it due to an obliviously meddling steward it seems the end of it all until everyone gets off the boat and all misconceptions are revealed. Hilarities ensue.

If it seems that I’ve forgotten more than usual about the plot of this book, well, it’s a pretty thick plot laden with twists and misunderstandings and general bumbling sense of nature at which, as an omniscient audience, you can’t help but shake your head and laugh. It stuck me as I was reading this that the story was a lot like a good episode of Seinfeld – all these crazy things happen that affect everything else except no one knows about them so everything just seems a mess. I couldn’t help thinking about what happens when your fiancé’s family forgets to put out the marble rye and your crazy father takes it back so you have to get your best friend to get another from the bakery and because there’s only one he has to steal itfrom an old lady and then you have to get your other friend to take your future in-laws out for a hansom cab ride only to have that go awry because he’s fed the horse beef-a-reeno and his gastrointestinal system isn’t so happy about that. I only remember all of that because I’ve seen that episode probably a dozen times. So then it struck me that isn’t not this story that’s Seinfeldian in nature, but it's Seinfeld that’s Wodehousian and I’m amazed at how great an influence this British writer has had on pop culture. Wodehouse, like one of my favorite TV shows, isn’t about getting the entire story straight, but about the entertainment you have watching it all unfold.

This is just another thing I wouldn’t have discovered without the great thing that was Chicklit.

[Oh yes…and there’s something called the “Glory Hole” that was mentioned seemingly in earnest and I couldn’t help but wonder if that phrase means the same thing in England as it does here. Anyone care to enlighten me?]

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