Something Fresh (Collector's Wodehouse)
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
In P.G. Wodehouse (Thames and Hudson Literary Lives Series), James Connolly offers this advice: "Relax and reread Wodehouse; he's the boy to restore a sense of proportion." Absolutely good advice. I find rereading Wodehouse is more enjoyable than most first reads of other authors, and he's quite easy to reread, even if you don't intend to, because his stories appear in various collections and his novels were often published under various titles.

Something Fresh, officially the first book in the Blandings Castle saga, was published as "Something New" as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post in 1915, and then as a book with the same title in an American edition. "Something Fresh" is a slightly altered British edition of that book. Ashe Marson, the unknown author of the hard-boiled Gridley Quayle, Investigator series of paperback pulps, answers an ad: "WANTED--Young Man of Good Appearance, who is poor and reckless, to undertake delicate and dangerous enterprise. Good pay for the right man." Poor and reckless is a formula in Wodehouse for a good-hearted, down on his luck guy, about to be smiled upon by a beneficent Providence. It's a carry-over from his work in musical comedy and as a struggling writer, but he is one of the few authors who make his leading characters writers, and one of the very few who throws them any of the good parts.

This book is a double bonus, with not only Ashe, but a female writer, Joan Valentine, who knows even more of the hard-bitten life of the streets, and is therefore even poorer and more reckless, as a stellar second in the personnel. Throw in all sorts of millionaires and mix-ups, maids and butlers, a loveable, old, potty Earl, and the beginning of the crime wave at Blandings, and you have the makings of either a rollicking musical comedy or a long series of delightful novels. With Wodehouse it was both. He alternated between the two worlds and if Something Fresh were a film or a musical, Ashe and Joan would no doubt break into song and start dancing about the parlour, as do Gracie Allen, George Burns and Fred Astaire in the Gershwin Brothers' film adaption of Wodehouse's novel, A Damsel in Distress. Why four stars? You can't give everything five, and in my view, as good as Something Fresh is, some of the later Wodehouse novels (such as the Jeeves, Mulliner and Drones Stories) are even better.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2011
I'm a big fan of Wodehouse. In fact, this is the only Blandings novel or story I've yet to read. So I was really looking forward to digging into it. However, the small print in my Penguin edition was proving a bit too tiring for my middle-aged eyes to read in the late evening, so I thought I'd download the Kindle version (only a dollar!), increase the type size a bit, and happy reading! A few nights later, a few chapters into the book, I was settling down in bed to read a bit more and I realized that I'd left my Kindle in another room, so I decided to squint my way through my Penguin copy for the evening. I started leafing through the early chapters, looking for my place, and I noticed some material that i didn't remember having read on the Kindle. So, I got up, went to my office, retrieved the Kindle, and started comparing the two versions. Lo and behold -- the Kindle version is missing whole paragraphs! And not just a few.

I ask you, who in their right mind would abridge a Wodehouse novel?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Another great installment in the Wodehouse canon.

A lot of this is exactly what you expect. The usual great expression and wit - that's the reason we're here. There's a typical range of peers, whether dotty, surly, benign, clueless, resolute, whimsical - or whatever combination. Light comic mix-ups and interactions. And a romance to tie it together.

But there's also some enjoyable peculiarities in this variation (ones I was more aware of soon after reading the book - I really must try to get to these reviews quicker).

Spoilers.

There's perhaps less of a focus on proto-Bertie (Freddy in this incarnation). Rather we tend to centre on a more classically heroic couple, a damn plucky gel, and, gracious, an Adonis of a boy. But fear not - he may have good abs, but he's way more Hugh Grant than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Interesting that some of their heroism relates to their poverty: they rise above their circumstances, rather than merely swim though them, like some of Wodehouse's later independently wealthy characters. And this may relate to the relative earliness of publication - this book came out in 1915 - before Wodehouse himself was established (or, perhaps, while he could still better remember times of living on a shoestring). Indeed, a glance at the unimpeachable wikipedia suggests that this book was his big break, the book that helped him escape the wolf at the door, previously barely held off by freelance journalism, contributions to musicals, and his more traditionally formulaic (but still enjoyable) schoolboy novels.

But this brings me to my postmodern bit. No surprises to have an author drawing on his own experience in creating characters. But Wodehouse is so self-aware of this in this book. Sure Derrida et. al. came up with some insightful points, but I do more and more cringe when hearing scholars treat this sort of thing as some utterly new concept. So here we have as our lead character a public school graduate who has to scrape by by writing fodder for the market - material that he himself finds absurd (no surprises that Wodehouse never returned to the Ripton stories once he could afford not to). We have the fun of the irony of a gushing fan - within the text - who loves the stories a world more than the author. But there are deliberate similarities between Ashe and his over the top hero - similarities that Ashe acknowledges in his final gambit. Moreover Wodehouse kicks around issues of feminism as Joan must navigate the tricky course of somehow maintaining independence without losing romance (but this is a sacrifice she's very prepared to make). Yeah, but how postmodern is this exchange in the last few pages of the book, as Joan and Ashe try to make sense of the story, to find a plot, a resolution:

"Do you ever get moods when life seems absolutely meaningless? It's like a badly-constructed story, with all sorts of characters moving in and out who have nothing to do with the plot. And when somebody comes along that you think really has something to do with the plot, he suddenly drops out. After a while you begin to wonder what the story is about, and you feel that it's about nothing--just a jumble."
"There is one thing," said Ashe, "that knits it together."
"What is that?"
"The love interest."
Their eyes met and suddenly there descended on Ashe confidence. He felt cool and alert, sure of himself, as in the old days he had felt when he ran races and, the nerve-racking hours of waiting past, he listened for the starter's gun. Subconsciously he was aware he had always been a little afraid of Joan, and that now he was no longer afraid.
"Joan, will you marry me?"
Her eyes wandered from his face. He waited.
"I wonder!" she said softly. "You think that is the solution?"

You could pull this apart in ten different ways, but if nothing else it just hammers that Wodehouse was as capable as Calvino of sharing a wink with his readers about what is or isn't `beyond the text'.

This aspect doesn't drive the story, and most of the fun is in Wodehouse's peerless narration, and evocation of characters that are at once both ludicrous and recognisable. There's also plenty of material if you wanted to discuss class: is, for example, Wodehouse an inexcusable snob because his servants are usually boorish and/or narrow-minded and/or unintelligent ... yet no more so than any of his aristocrats! I suppose this has been kicked about a lot with the whole Jeeves/Wooster dynamic: just who is in charge here (and there's no question who is the smartest). For all the silliness of the midnight confusions and relationships, the story framework does actually hang together effectively. And the self aware bits aren't half as laboured as, say, McEwan's: this little excerpt incorporates postmodernism (or is that prepostmodernism?) with perfect restraint, wit, and to effectively dovetail with the plot. A lovely bonus to an already thoroughly enjoyable book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2006
This book was first published as "Something New" in the U.S. on September 3rd, 1915 by D. Appleton and Company, and then in the U.K. on September 16th, 1915 by Methuen & Co., and this is the first of the Blandings Castle stories. As far as Wodehouse stories go this is not his best, but it does introduce characters which appear in many of his later works.

The main two characters of the story are Ashe Marson, a writer of cheap detective novels, and Joan Valentine, a woman who lives in his apartment building who laughs at his morning exercises which results in their meeting. Neither of them is satisfied with what they are doing in life, and both are in the need for money.

The story moves to different characters from time to time, in typical Wodehouse fashion. Important characters include Aline Peters, Jane's friend who is engaged to Frederick Threepwood, who is the son of the Earl of Emsworth who is the lord of Blandings Castle, and is a very absent minded individual. Jane's father is J. Preston Peters, an American business man who collects scarabs and suffers from digestion problems.

Other characters included are Baxter, the Earl's secretary, and R. Jones, a less than honest man whom Frederick has hired to recover love letters he wrote to an actress (Joan Valentine) in the past which might contain evidence for a breach of promises suit. There are also the many guests and servants of Blandings Castle.

It would be impossible to cover all the twists in a Wodehouse plot, but many of his usual devices are here. Characters pretending to be someone they are not, misunderstandings galore, and love, of course. Some of the scenes which I liked the best included Baxter's attempts to catch someone trying to steal the Scarab, and the servant scenes where the hierarchy of servants comes into play. I have yet to read a Wodehouse book which wasn't enjoyable, and this one is no exception. However, there are many of his stories which are better than this one.

This edition is part of "The Collector's Wodehouse" series being published by The Overlook Press in the U.S. (in the U.K. it is "The Everyman's Wodehouse" series being published by Everyman's Library).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
There isn't a single page on which Wodehouse doesn't offer a few perfect sentences. In fact, even the more mundane sentences have a very satisfying sound and weight to the ear.
as usual, he's very funny and on a number of levels. The situations are often rollickingly ludicrous but the wordplay and word choices light up each page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2010
Wodehouse continues with his wonderful recipe of decadent peerage, hopelessly-in-lovers, imposters and theft plots in another Blandings Castle book. To this delightful mix, is added an American dash in the form of Mr.Peters, a multimillionaire with poor digestion and poorer temper and his sweet wisp of a daughter Aline Peters, engaged to be married to Freddie Threepwood. Ashe Marson (author of Gridley Quayle, detective fiction and avid practicioner of the Larsen exercises) and Joan Valentine (ex-chorus girl, former paramour of Freddie and always ready to take life by the bull's horns)bring in even more flavour to this already succulent mix. What's really interesting is how the lead characters come and go but Blandings Castle and its inmates remain part of the unchanging, everlastingly witty backdrop. 'Something Fresh' uses standard Wodehousian plot ingredients but manages to keep you laughing all along, nevertheless.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2010
Having read many of the jeeves stories 20 years ago and watched again recently the ITV Jeeves and Wooster starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, I thought it was time to get back to Wodehouse for some good cheer. But, I wanted to start on something different, so I decided to start with the first of the Blandings novels. As someone who struggles to get a night sleep because of pain, it was a sheer delight for me to have the tonic of reading this book peopled with its ecentric characthers and its zany plot. Lord Emsworth is the most striking characther here - he is completely potty, not realising he has stolen an american collector's egyptian scarab. The book is about the collector getting the scarab back and it really is hiarlous at times. I will say though that having just read "Leave it to Psmith" that, if anything, the series gets better with its more complex and convoluted characthers with impersonation being a key theme. Anyway enjoy to your heart's content!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2001
This is my 3rd book of P.G Wodehouse & I'm simply hooked!! P.G Wodehouse is one of a kind! Any body can write a story, but it takes real talent to write something which will make people laugh. I liked this book not so much for the story as for P.G Wodehouse's style of writing. The plot is well-made & skilfuly woven.What happens when a scarab gets stolen? 'A scarab?' you think. Yes, a valuable scarab from Mr. Peter's collection & an offer of 10,000 dollars for it's retrieval. This has caught your attention. So has it caught Ashe Marton & Joan Valentine in a web of lies, confusion & humour. Both of them vye for the reward, posing as impostors in Blandings castle. Ashe Marton, as Mr. Peter's valet & Joan Valentine as Aline Peter's maid. The Efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth's seceretary, gets to know of the plan & spends many sleepless nights hoping to catch them red-handed. But none of them know that somebody else is interested in the scarab too, & will very soon take it away right under their noses! The side characters who contribute a lot towards the humour situation, are Mr. Beach, the butler, who 'Suffers from His Feet, From Nervous Disorders', & 'whose Stomach Lining is not what a stomach lining should be.' I'm sure you'll all love this hilarious story.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2000
The next time your strolling in a peaceful wood where the birds are singing, the squirrels chattering, the brook babbling, and your heart fills with joy, you'll know exactly the type of experience you get when reading a Wodehouse novel. Wodehouse writes about a happy world, where pratfalls rule and coincidences are the norm. This is world where your not in tune if you don't fall in love at first sight. Something Fresh is all of this: happy, filled with pratfalls and coincidence, and brimming with lovers. What should a person recommend more? The wonderfully convoluted plots? The large cast of absolute eccentrics? Wodehouse's command of the English language (and how to use it humorously and dramatically)? Since I love all of the above, it is not difficult to imagine giving this book anything but a glowing review. And what is more amazing is that this is not even his funniest book!! But Something Fresh is a great place to start if you never have read Wodehouse before. It is a good introduction to those wonderful folks of Blandings Castle. And you'll know that having a cheerful "tra-la-la!" on your lips will get you a lot further in life than a frown and a lawsuit. Having Wodehouse in my life has improved things immensely.
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on October 22, 2002
If your acquaintance with the wonderful world of Wodehouse begins and ends with Jeeves and that bit of a thick-o, Bertram Wilburforce W. then it's high time you came to Blandings Castle to meet Lord Emsworth and his idiot son Freddie,what?And "something fresh" is exactly where you'd want to start.Structured like a detective or spy novel and woven ever so tightly,it leaves you wondering....could all this bally intrigue be about something so incredibly silly? (and I'm far and away from meaning silly as an insult).Lighthearted and romantic without ever being lightweight, beautifully written and zanily paced, you'll want to spend a holiday as a guest at Blandings castle as soon as possible.Go ahead,satisfy your anglophilic urges...read some Wodehouse!
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