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Wake Up, Sir!    by Jonathan Ames order for
Wake Up, Sir!
by Jonathan Ames
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels, as I'm sure you know, chronicle the humorous misadventures of gadabout Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. Wooster, who possesses a lot of money but rather fewer brain cells, gets himself into all manner of comic confusion, and Jeeves, his all-knowing companion, extricates him with a minimum of fuss and embarrassment. They're fantasies, set in the world of the aimless gentry, with only a passing resemblance to the real world.

Anyway, here's Wake Up, Sir! It begins as a gentle spoof of a Wodehouse story, with our hero, sometime novelist Alan Blair, awakened from a fitful sleep by his manservant, Jeeves (the name being not so much a coincidence: Jeeves, apparently, comes from a line of valets on whom Wodehouse based his fictional character). Alan's living for now with his Uncle Irwin, a gun enthusiast and something of a prude -- a typically Wodehouseian (if that's actually a word) situation. He's trying to write a novel his second, after a poorly received first. In order to get his creative juices flowing, and to escape the regime of his Uncle, Alan sets out on a road trip.

So far, everything seems fairly familiar to a Wodehouse reader. Ames is clearly comfortable with the Jeeves and Wooster format, and he beautifully captures the tone and feel of Wodehouse's stories. 'Can you put something together in the way of nutrition?' Alan asks Jeeves. 'All I've had in my mouth today are my teeth.' Very much something Bertie Wooster might say.

Soon, though, in a kind of subtly creeping way, you begin to realize this is more than a modern-day spoof of a Wodehouse story. You begin to pay attention to the differences. Alan's wealthy, yes, but not because he comes from a wealthy family; it's because he received a settlement in a personal-injury law suit. He gets into plenty of trouble with women, just like Bertie does, but Alan's trouble comes from things like calling up a number written on a phone-booth wall.

There's also Alan's odd fixation with people's noses, and his constant reference to homosexuals and the 'Homosexual Question,' both of which are apparently linked in some weird way. Near the end of the novel, Alan describes someone thusly: 'He was an old homosexual with a beautiful nose.' Try to imagine Bertie Wooster knowing about, much less obsessing about, homosexuality. Yet the person with whom he spent the most time, and with whom he had the most fulfilling relationship, was Jeeves. Is Ames bringing to the surface some unstated aspect of the Wodehouse stories, or is he just having fun? You be the judge.

Oh, and the colony Alan winds up at? With its assortment of writers and other colourfully creative people? Read between the lines and see if it doesn't sound suspiciously like an asylum. In the Wodehouse stories, Bertie often ended up at places full of eccentric people. Is Ames just taking that aspect of the stories a little further, or is he up to something else entirely? I have my opinion, but I'll let you form your own.

Then there's Jeeves himself, who talks like the Wodehouse character, and acts like him, but doesn't seem to be quite as omniscient or helpful. In the Wodehouse stories, Jeeves always seemed just too perfect to be real. What is Ames saying, here, with his imperfect (and frequently absent) Jeeves? Eventually, you begin to realize that this isn't merely an affectionate homage to the Wodehouse stories. It, too, is a fantasy, but of an altogether different sort. It's a kind of grotty, real-world, psychologically twisted version of a Wodehouse story. Charming, and beautifully written, but daring, perverse, and altogether unique. I've never read anything quite like it.

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