Uncle Fred is one of Wodehouse's most engaging characters. Uncle Fred in the Springtime is one of his best books. And Jonathan Cecil's performance is does full justice to them both.
First, there is Cecil's ability to give each character a distinctive (and appropriate) vocal portrayal. Then there is his consistency in those portrayals. Add his ability to get every nuance out of every line and you have a full hand.
But wait, there's more. This is simply one of the best books in the Wodehouse canon. Start with a plot so tangled it may take a few listens to get it fixed in your mind (fear not; this is a story and a reading that gets better with every hearing). Add those various situations--from a Zulu warrior wedged into a phone booth to a spot of indoor artillery practice--that could only happen in the world according to Wodehouse. And to top it all off, there's Uncle Fred, his jumpy nephew Pongo and the lovely, lissom Polly Pott, crashing the exclusive gates of Blandings Castle posing as...
Well, you'll just have to listen.
Added goose: unlike some of the Wodehouse offered by Audible, this recording is crystal clear.
Though there's plenty of "inhaling" at various bars, clubs and pubs throughout the Wodehouse canon, this is the only story I know of that involves an actual out-of-body (or, to be completely accurate, out-of-two-bodies) experience.
Due to this unique plot twist, it's also the only Wodehouse story I know of where we are treated to life from a child's perspective. Again, to be completely accurate it's life seen through the eyes of an adult who happens at the time to be inhabiting a child's body. Nevertheless, this adult has to deal with all the vicissitudes of youth--from bedtimes to bullies. Add the fact that this kid also happens to be a Hollywood child star, with all the dietary obligations that entails, and you can see that our hero has his hands full.
This was the first Wodehouse I ever read, given to me by my hall RA in college. Of course, like a chump I put off reading it for five or six years but when I did it came as rare and refreshing fruit.
Best line: When a temperance reformer hauls up her slacks about the "lake of alcohol" in America, the hero's cousin, a confirmed inebriate, lights up: "You mean...we can just go there and lap?"
Best situation: Confronted by a ten year old boy in ringlets and a flat Ohio accent who claims to be related to him by ties of blood, this cousin runs the other way--either to the nearest bar or temple of temperance. In a town built on illusions, it's hard to convince someone that something genuinely amazing has happened.
Meanwhile, everyone--and I mean everyone, from cops to kidnappers--is angling for a part in the next celluloid epic.
My only squawk is the way man and boy return to their own bodies--disappointing after the completely plausible (or at least plausible-for-Wodehouse-in-Hollywood) way they got switched in the first place. Nevertheless, a delightful romp.
Fear not, this version of Gawain is in modern verse. But it is a story both "stif" and "stronge", narrated by a voice talent who comprehends and conveys all the outlandish drama and subtle undertones of the tale.
The sheer number of modern versions of this poem, in prose and verse--from J. R. R. Tolkien, W. S. Merwin and Jesse Weston to, most recently, Simon Armitage--testify to its enduring power. It really is an imaginative tour de force and, among Medieval poems, something of a rarity: a story that deeply satisfies our modern need for brevity, a well-rounded plot and an unexpected denouemont. Startlingly cinematic in the way scenes shift and are contrasted with one another, Gawain reminds us that writers were aware of the technique long before Edison invented the movie camera. And beyond all that there's the lush, vivid, refined, barbaric, delicate and always-surprising language wielded so skillfully by our anonymous genius. That in itself is a joy to listen to.
I lack the background to be a perceptive critic of the present version of the poem, but at least to me it stands up very well indeed, driven along by an energetic performance. Use it as a way to get back into the poem if you know it already--or as a way to get others hooked.
Like Kevin, Wodehouse's golf sagas used to leave me a bit tepid. I've only played one complete round of golf in my life and then it was a foursome playing best ball--and the best ball was rarely mine. But that single experience has helped me to understand that Wodehouse speaks sooth: when you DO hit the ball right (and I did once, purely by accident, a low, raking drive that went at least two thirds the distance of the fairway), you really do want to stop everything, untangle yourself and try to recollect what you did right. An impossible assignment, but there it is.
But more than that, though these are "golf stories" I've come to see that they really aren't about golf. They're about people who happen to play golf. Just as the Bertie and Jeeves stories revolve around a young, well-off man about town who likes to hang around the Drones and avoid his Aunt Agatha, these are humorous tales in which golf is the grist in the mill. The way these characters are steeped in golf--how they express their ideas and emotions (from insults to proposals of marriage) almost entirely in terms of golf--is not only funny but, again, not so very far off from the truth. Just think of any avid golfer you know.
Then, of course, there is Frederick Davidson's languid but never bored or boring delivery. His readings are usually at least an hour longer than those of, say, Jonathan Cecil reading the same book and it is time well spent; Davidson uses it to get all the juice out of every line. Both as a book (one of Wodehouse's best) and a performance (one of Davidson''s best) this is a must-have.
"Intellectually sloppy". "Lacking insights". Very true.
Unlike Professor Shutt's lectures on Hebrews, Greeks and Romans or his masterful guided tour through Dante's Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, these talks meander. The particular engagements are never placed solidly in their larger military, social or economic contexts. After reviewing the main characteristics of typical naval powers in lecture one, those criteria are seldom referred to again.
Things get better with the lecture on Trafalgar and after--but then I know that period pretty well and may have been filling in the blanks for myself. The section on the Russo-Japanese War was all new material to me and a good grounding for someone who will probably never pick up a book on the subject.
But only once do I recall getting a classic Shutt-like insight: near the end of the lecture on Midway he illustrates the American Way of War (high tech/low casualty) by observing that the winning blow was struck by fewer than 100 men--and that the cutting edge of that force may have numbered only 30. A stunning point that rivets the attention--as Professor Shutt at his best does all the time--and puts the victory in a wholly new light.
But while I agree with Chris and Matthew on all this, I have a confession: I like Professor Shutt. I enjoy his enthusiasm, his delivery, his personality as it comes through the headphones. Sometimes I think if Audible sold a recording of him reading the phone book I'd put it on my Wish List. While I learned very little that was really new, I got a good, solid review of naval history that made the train ride home every night far more enjoyable.
A story with a preponderance of male characters being read by a female voice? That's what I wondered about when I took this from our public library years ago on audio cassette. But I was surprised and delighted then and remain surprised and delighted now. May conveys Wimsey, Bunter, Parker, the dowager duchess--everyone--to perfection.
Of all the Wimsey stories, this first in the series stands out as the one with the most comedy. Yes, it's a dark tale chillingly told. But there are fine moments of levity that relieve the gloom; sometimes this early edition of Lord Peter can almost sound as if he were about to drop in at the Drones Club for a quick spot before lunch.
And the story is good. In fact it's superb. But I'm not gong to say any more for fear of spoiling it for you.
This volume has everything: Blandings Castle, Mr. Mulliner, Golf Stories, Freddie Widgeon of the Drones and three of the best Ukridge tales Wodehouse ever wrote. The only dimension of his imaginary universe that's missing here is Jeeves and Wooster. But what's here is all so good you don't notice the gap. Oh, and then there's Nigel Lambert's perfect performance of these nine stories. (So why haven't you clicked "purchase" yet?)
Bought this one on cassette years ago and listened till the tapes wore out. It's good to have these screwball sagas again, in a far more portable format and at an unbelievable reasonable price.
Because it's fiction written by a man with a deep understanding of Roman ways, culture, myth and history. Whether the essentially sympathetic portrait of Claudius which Graves paints is historically accurate or not, the up and coming emperor is certainly a boon companion and reliable guide through the banquets and backstreets of Early Imperial Rome.
My one regret is that as a teenager I absorbed the BBC TV series starring Derek Jacoby as Claudius, so knew ahead of time some of the more frightful or surprising plot twists. More, the series sometimes went into more graphic detail than the book ever does, Claudius being a basically decent who man spends as little time as possible delving into the seamier side of his story. Still, as a piece of writing the book stands on it's own and is very enjoyable, though toward the end the taut narrative thread seems to go somewhat slack and we are treated to a mere catalog--a long, almost endless catalog--of Caligula's misdeeds and misrule. It is a relief when finally...but you'll want to find out on your own.
Meanwhile Claudius, while sympathetic, is still a Roman who lived 2,000 years ago. So while more humane than most of the figures who surround him, he finds nothing amiss in slavery, animal fights or the conquest distant tribes. In our politically correct era this is infinitely refreshing. While acutely critical of what he sees around him, Claudius still believes in the essential soundness and superiority of the ideals of Rome--a cultural confidence we don't seem able to muster these days.
As always, Frederick Davidson is simply superb. For the recording it almost sounds like he replicates Jacoby's voice characterization of Claudius. His ability to get all the nuance or sarcasm or irony out of a sentence serves this book (and all the books he reads) very well.
And it eliminates a major twist in one of Wodehouse's most twisted plots. Running from page175 to page 181 in the Overlook Press edition, it renders the story absolute nonsense from that point forward. Fortunately, the break in the narrative flow is so obvious, and the pause that precedes it so long, that it's hard for even a casual listener to miss.
Other than that I'm enjoying Jonathan Cecil's performance very much. It's a book I didn't like all that much when I read it several years ago. It is, I believe, Wodehouse's longest work and it does get a bit tedious on paper. But listening is a pleasure and, armed with the complete text, one can bridge over this unfortunate gap--along with any others that may crop up along the way.
Jonathan Cecil does his best, but these stories just lack the zip and ginger one has the right to expect from a Wodehouse collection. "The Smile that Wins" and "Best Seller" are the best of the lot; "the Knightly Quest of Mervyn", featuring Wodehouse as comic lyricist, is up there as well. But the two cat-centric tales just don't grip. The premise of "Strychnine in the Soup" is too far fetched--or Wodehouse doesn't work hard enough at making you swallow his outlandish premise with no questions asked, something he is usually a master at. And "Gala Night" just lays there.
Not that these stories don't make pleasant listening as one cleans the kitchen or mows the lawn. But the Master has better stuff in his arsenal: opt for "Meet Mr. Mulliner" and "Mr. Mulliner Speaking" if you want the accustomed Wodehouse sparkle. I may be prejudiced, having seen the John Alderton and Pauline Collins version of several of these stories (and thereby knowing how some would end) but I don't think so. The Alderton/Collins versions of other Wodehouse tales didn't spoil my listening when it was a question of "The Editor Regrets" or "Portrait of a Disciplinarian".
When someone writes over 90 books, there are bound to be a few disappointments. This is one of them.
Like Frederick Davidson, Jeremy Sinden gets the inner meaning of Wodehouse, extracting every drop of irony, sarcasm, mock-melodrama or just plain humor from every single line. His vocal portrayals are pitch-perfect; one gets a visual image of every character. His timing and pacing are impeccable. His diction is downright Harovian. Or Etonian, take your pick.
But then again, like any actor with a great script, Sinden has a lot to work with here. Full Moon is one of the highest spots in the Wodehouse bookshelf, a tumultuous romp through the spreading park lands and messuages of Blandings Castle, where:
Veronica Wedge ("the dumbest blonde in Shropshire") and Tipton Plimson ("rather a self-centered young man") find love
Colonel Egbert (complete with service revolver) and Lady Hermione Wedge (who looks like a cook) find a rich son-in-law
Bill Lister ("Blister" to his pals) finds he isn't cut out for the life artistic but is cut out for life with Prudence ("that little squirt") Garland
Lord Emsworth ("that woolen-headed peer") finds peace when everybody finally clears out of his house and leaves him with his prize porker, Empress of Blandings and his favorite reading, "On the Care of the Pig", by the great Augustus Whiffle
And the Hon. Galahad Threepwood finds he can make it all come about with an adroit mixture of lies, half-truths, tall tales, brisk staff work...and putting the Empress in Veronica's bedroom.
Don't worry, I haven't given anything away. In Wodehouse everyone--at least, all the deserving ones--get exactly what they want. The fun--and there is a great deal of fun here, served up with no unstinting hand--is seeing how they get it. Jeremy Sinden makes Wodehouse in your ear buds even better that Wodehouse off the printed page.
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