Pistache (2006) saw him taking on and sending up famous voices in fiction. Devil May Care, his 2008 James Bond novel, had him swapping mischievous parody for straight imitation ("Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming"). Now, with Jeeves And The Wedding Bells, authorised by the PG Wodehouse estate, Faulks demonstrates again that he can rise to the daunting challenge of impersonating past masters and continuing the adventures of their much-loved characters.
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For some, Faulks's 007 mission was a tad lame, and was reportedly dashed off in a mere six weeks. Jeeves And The Wedding Bells, on the other hand, feels like a project undertaken with greater care: less rush-job, more labour of love.
The plot, as ever with Wodehouse, barely matters, standing always in the shadow of the colourful cast and the effervescent prose. Bertie Wooster sums it up in a single sentence: "the attempt to reunite the sundered hearts of my oldest friend and his beloved" - before describing the outcome as "a fiasco, a lulu, a damp squib from start to finish". Fortunately, Faulks's novel is anything but.
Writers of series rely on recurring characters and repeated props (Quidditch, deerstalkers, vodka martinis) to maintain uniformity and convey familiarity. Faulks knows this and ensures that his "tribute" to Wodehouse features all the expected components. Thus we get formidable aunts, imperious aristocracy and high jinks that include breaking into a country pile. Bertie, the lovable buffoon, still visits his Drones club, smokes his gaspers and drinks a lethal cocktail called a Zonker; Jeeves, his trusty valet, still reads "improving" books and is at hand to offer wisdom, a desired mot juste or an escape plan to rescue his master from his latest scrape.
For many chapters Faulks plays it safe, ticking all the required boxes and delivering a Wodehouse-by-numbers. Bertie's faithful friends and old flames are referenced to render the proceedings even more authentic. Later, though, as if having gained confidence, Faulks takes more risks. One includes Jeeves's subterfuge in which he poses as a lord while Bertie masquerades as the manservant.
This role-reversal is an age-old staple of comedy but Faulks adds a fresh gloss to the confusion and bungling that arise from mistaken identities.
We also witness Bertie's disastrous cricketing skills and more successful amateur dramatics in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At one point, Faulks takes time out from the mayhem and gives us Wodehouse with a twist by squeezing in some social commentary, his characters dilating on suffragettes and the viability of their cause. Faulks keeps his biggest (double) surprise until the closing pages, one which may ruffle the feathers of Wodehouse purists but is sure to delight everyone else.
Perhaps Faulks's chief concern while writing this was reproducing that Wodehousean wit - for those aficionados, a feat the equivalent of counterfeiting a watermark. Faulks gives it his best shot, if not eliciting routine guffaws then at least sporadic snorts.
Dialogue comes sprinkled with the requisite number of "what ho!"s and "I say!"s, "bally" this and "spiffing" that; the daft names ring true, Bertie hobnobbing with Cora "Corky" Pirbright or carousing with Peregrine "Woody" Beeching; and bubbling among the froth is a generous helping of crisp one-liners, acerbic put-downs and droll repartee between master and servant ("Damn it, Jeeves, there are times when the question of the appropriate dress is simply not on the agenda." "I have yet to encounter one, sir").
Detractors will argue that resurrecting a series representing an upper-crust world and belonging to a bygone Britain is pointless. However, the strongest praise we can heap on Faulks is that his novel is a loud and defiant cry to the contrary. Certain humour never goes out of fashion, and anachronistic need not mean irrelevant.
Jeeves And The Wedding Bells may not be the real article but it is the next best thing: a polished, sparkling, genuine fake.