Sunday, July 18, 2010

More John Lawton and P.G. Wodehouse

I'm in awe of John Lawton's convincing picture of life during wartime and continually surprised by his invocation of P.G. Wodehouse, first in 2007's Second Violin, and now in Black Out (1995), first of his Frederick Troy novels.

"It seemed Wolinski ignored everything for the life of the mind. Troy could not have slept a wink in dust and dirt such as this. On the bedside table, spine upwards, was Wolinski's bedtime reading. Troy smiled — The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse, in which whilst in hot pursuit of his Aunt Dahlia's cow-creamer, Bertie Wooster manages to defeat British fascism."
Naming Wodehouse was unnecessary, like invoking Hamlet with the additional information that its author was William Shakespeare. But this was Lawton's first novel; perhaps he (or his editor) lacked the confidence to excise the name.

More interesting is a later passage, where Lawton has a minor character "assuming the jowly look of a lugubrious bloodhound." That's Wodehousian, though its placement at a serious moment in a serious story is a Lawtonian touch. Think of it as Wodehouse in a minor key.

And, as the English Wodehouse did in some of his American stories, the English Lawton pays special attention to the cadences of American speech. With the possible exception of one minuscule slip, he does a better job.

Authors often pay homage to influential or beloved predecessors. What such homages have surprised you?
Lawton's page on the Grove Atlantic Web site offers a pungent an illuminating essay called "A Shabby Page of History" on the episodes that formed the background of Second Violin. The site also offers a bit on Lawton's next novel, A Lily of the Field, which jumps back before Second Violin, to the early 1930s.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

I may have posted this before, but there may be some new readers who haven't seen it.

Rex Stout almost invariably mentioned the title and author of Wolfe's current book, and Winifred Louis started keeping track of them at her "Merely a Genius" Geocities website. When I found her site seven or eight years ago I sent her a list of ones she had not yet added.

Yahoo dumped Geocities late last year, but the official Wolfe group The Wolfe Pack picked up her site before it disappeared. Wolfe's reading list is here.

July 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's quite a list. Among the intriguing names: Solzhenitsyn, Rachel Carson and, of course, P.G. Wodehouse.

July 19, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The admiration was mutual. Wodehouse wrote the foreword for John MacAleer's biography of Stout and was quoted saying it didn't matter that the reader knew whodunnit, re-reading Wolfe was always a pleasure because the writing was so good.

July 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wodehouse was right. Chandler has probably already made his pronouncement that a crime novel could be a novel of characters and so on that just happened to contain elements of crime. But Wodehouse was probably still an early example of someone my habit conditioned to whodunnits but open-minded enough to realize that a crime story could be something else, too.

July 19, 2010  

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