Tag Archives: P G Wodehouse

Obsessive reading


I wish I’d saved the blog post. I should have saved the blog post. But I didn’t. So this blog post is a bit hazy on the exact details. Dear blogger: whoever/wherever you are, thanks for inspiring me, and my apologies for not  naming you and your blog, as my source.

These apologies are the preamble to my reaction about an obsessive reader.  The blogger cheerfully told his readers that he had read the play Hamlet  and one of P G Wodehouse’s  Jeeves  novels (and there are fourteen of them, so I’m excused on fudging the exact title) OVER 100 TIMES.  And this, mark you, over a period of a few years, when he was a student. It sounded as if the blogger was in his mid-20s’. Apparently he was studying Hamlet  for academic reasons, but Jeeves?  Perhaps after all the dramatic Scandinavian crime and gloom he needed a bit of a respite? What could be a better tonic that P G Wodehouse’s imperturbable, unflappable butler, the immortal Jeeves? I’m a Jeeves fan myself, so I can understand his affection for the man.

But the point is: imagine reading the same work – makes no maybe what it is: a play, a novel,  an essay – over one hundred times! I’m sure we all have a much-loved book that we’ve read, and re-read many times.  For example, I have re-read one of my all-time favourites, The Last Samurai  by Helen de Witt at least four or five times. It’s a wonderful story, and a great read.  But one hundred times?  No.

The blogger revealed that re-reading Hamlet  so frequently made him aware of  the language, the subtleties, the nuances; the phrase ‘close reading’ which is much in vogue, covers this approach.  I don’t know that the Jeeves novels offer the same depth. PG was a master of the neat phrase, the bon mot, dialogue that required no frills or trimmings to drive the story forward and make his characters immortal. I wish I could write dialogue the way PG did! Mind you, Wodehouse lived into his early 90s and was a prolific writer, almost to the end, so there’s hope yet.


His output was prodigious. Encyclopaedia Brittanica tells us:  He wrote more than 90 books and more than 20 film scripts and collaborated on more than 30 plays and musical comedies.

I wonder if any of my readers have obsessively read one of their favourites over and over again? If so: do tell!







why? (Photo credit: currawongwhisper42)


Chocolat isn’t talking to me, ever since I wheeled my big green suitcase through from the garage.  She watched me balefully while I packed books, clothes, shoes, toiletries, gifts. Halfway through the process she stalked away, angrily swishing her tail. She knows from  bitter past experience that Suitcase = Cattery.

I’ve tried to ease the pain by offering her something light-hearted to read in my absence, like  P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves  novels – I always find Bertie Wooster very entertaining, and comfort myself that I don’t have fearsome Aunts to contend with.

Since that suggestion sank like a lead balloon, I tried again: what about Terry Pratchett and his wonderful Discworld novels I said?  Chocolat glared at me, swiped at my ankles with an angry claw and buzzed off for the rest of the day. Clearly nothing will suit Madam in her current bad mood, so she’ll just have to endure the durance vile, and for entertainment she can  shout loud abuse at the resident Staffies as they race around the lawn in front of the cattery runs.

So, dear readers, I shall be AFK as my friend Dr Sheldon Cooper would say – you don’t know Dr Cooper? The insanely picky genius scientist from TV’s Big Bang Theory?   Ag shame, as we say in South Africa. AFK = Absent From Keyboard.  I’ll be back – meanwhile: stay safe, stay happy and keep on reading!


Filed under HUMOUR




During the painful and sleepless hours around 3 a.m. (after my hip replacement op), I took refuge with Brahms & Simon’s incomparable impresario, that Russian visionary, Vladimir Stroganoff and his ballet company. After all these years they are still gloriously entertaining.  I bought the book in 1979, the year after I emigrated to South Africa, but I first read the book years ago – perhaps in the early 1950’s, from my Mother’s bookcase.  I see there was once a little rectangular sticker inside my book – it would have shown the bookseller’s name – van Schaik, in Pretoria, I think.  I’d rubbed out the pencilled price long ago, but on the jacket is the price £4.95 so it can’t have been very much, even when converted to South African Rands. In those days I didn’t earn very much, but I do remember spotting it in the book store window display and buying it without hesitation – such a treasure, what a find! The first publication would have been in the 1930s.

Thirty years on the pages have turned a deep brown and towards the back the print has faded – I didn’t realise it could, or did.

The jacket says Caryl Brahms was a well-known British ballet critic and that SJ Simon died young – it almost sounds as if he suicided, as Stroganoff would have said.

What I love about Brahms & Simon, apart from their splendid characters, is their brief and trenchant writing style, the catchphrases, (You schange me a scheque? is the constant optimistic enquiry from their erratic choreographer, Nicholas Nevajno,who is permanently broke); the dislocated English that so beautifully conveys a Russian accent with economy and effect.

The characters are wonderful. There’s Arenskaya, Ballet Mistress, once  prima ballerina at the Marinsky, now the tyrant of the rehearsal room, locked in mortal combat with the rehearsal pianist on a daily basis, resulting in screaming matches of epic proportions. There are the Mothers, cosseting and coaxing and bullying their ballerina daughters towards fame. Naturally this involves tears, dramatic exits, tantrums, back-stabbing, scheming, declarations, hysterics –  and all this before lunch, never mind after the performance.  There are the White Russian generals, bewhiskered and be-medalled, balletomanes to the last frayed cuf , gallantly bearing bouquets and promises of champagne.  And I should mention Ernest Smithsky, possibly the worst male lead ever, who does very dodgy lifts. But he does try. Even Diaghalev gets a mention in this frothy fictional world of the ballet.

Along with P.G. Wodehouse they rank as my No 1 Comic novelists; Prachett comes in a poor second, and as for Jasper fforde and Robert Rankin, them I dismiss, as Stroganoff would have declared.

B & S were writing in the 1930s, so was Wodehouse.  What is it about this writing that so amuses me?  Or what is it about my taste that finds the 30s writing so entertaining? It’s not as if I’m wedded to 30s novelists or the crime writing – Christie, Wallace, Cheyney etc, all whom I’ve read. It’s just some of the 30s humourists who tickle my funny-bone.

More  about the duo:  I Googled B & S and they turned out to be a couple of Jewish Brits with  Mittel European names.  I think the J S  stood for Joel Sidelsky and Caryl B turned out to be Doris Abramavitch!   Very canny to semi-change their names, given the class system in Britain and also the times – the run up to WWII.

Their books on Alibri, listed in the Out of Print section, are priced from $20 to the low $40’s – wow! The only in-print book seems to be No Bed for Bacon @ R134.  It’s a Shakespearean skit, which I’ve read, and loved.  Must say I’m tempted to buy it.

I continue to sort through, weed out and re-read my books.  I’ve enjoyed doing it.  It’s been interesting to see how I’ve reacted to long kept books.  Suddenly you realize your taste has changed and you will never re-read a book – not worth the time, or actually never worth it in the first place. So into the Charity Sale Donations box it goes. But never my Stroganoff omnibus; I’ll be clutching it on my death-bed to keep it from my heirs – be warned!

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Recent Reads

Desert  by  JMG Le Clezio (translated from the French)

Where to start?  I wanted to read this because I’m fascinated by deserts and this book is about nomads in the Sahara.  Secondly, the writer has a huge reputation.  He won the 2008 Nobel Prize of Literature.  He has written over forty books and been translated into thirty six languages!

The cover blurb said “A writer of something akin to genius”.

His style was to do long lyrical passages about the desert, the heat, the light – which was okay at first, quite spellbinding actually  – but very repetitive after the first hundred pages.  And then he did the same thing, when he was describing the poor areas of Marseilles.  Somehow this  approach was incongruous when applied to an urban setting.

And the book structure. It opened with a historical account of the early 1900s – the great trek of the  tribal people to the coast, under the leadership of a mystical sheik – and their eventual wholesale slaughter at the end of the book.  I suppose part of the novel – apart from the beautiful prose aspect – was an indictment of European colonial policy in North Africa.  I had to read the Morocco section of Michael Palin’s Sahara   to get a perspective.

The gist of it all was that Lalla – the chief protagonist, a young nomad girl, – was a descendant of the mystical sheik  – she was filled with wanderlust and had an affinity to the desert – which pulled her back from urban immigrant life in Marseilles.  You could take the girl out of the desert but not the desert out of the girl.

His portrayal of immigrant urban life was really grim and makes you wonder if they would not have been better off staying in North Africa.  But I suppose it’s the lure of a cash economy.

Apparently this book is considered to be le Clezio’s “definitive breakthrough as a novelist”.  Was quite surprised to read this.  I found I really had to work hard to read the book and to finish it (350 pages).  Had I not know this was such a landmark book, I’m not sure I would have laboured on to the end.

Just imagine: over forty books!  Alexander McCall Smith has a similar (in fact bigger, I think) score, but he won’t be nominated for the Nobel prize –apparently comic novels don’t really count when it comes to prestigious global  prizes.  And look at Terry Pratchett’s output – also over the forty mark.   The master of them all, P. G. Wodehouse wrote something  ninety six  books in addition to  plays, song lyrics, poems, and articles. No Nobel Lit Prize for him!

SAHARA – by Michael Palin, photos by Basil Pao

This is the book version of the BBC TV series.  The series was entertaining at the time, but by flipping though the book just to enjoy the photographs, one is spared Michael Palin’s somewhat forced humour.  I enjoyed the rich ochre colours of the dunes and the wave-like ripple patterns in the sand.  Pao perfectly captures the mystique of deserts, their immensity, the sheer emptiness and the vivid contrast of a blazing blue sky that definitely borders eternity.  And his portraits of the natives of the Sahel: pitch black skin and vivid boldly patterned fabric wraps – the colours are so bold and so primary.  Perhaps they make such an impact because the backgrounds are sand and there is nothing to distract the eye?
I’m fascinated by deserts  – quite why, I’m not sure.  All that space and emptiness?  An echo  – of sorts –  of the Buddha’s teaching as seen by the Zennists where emptiness is a recurring theme.

Note to self:  I must hunt up my review of the Freya Stark autobiog, plus my notes about her own voluminous travel diaries and writings. And then there is the  book I borrowed from the Ixopo Library, in 1990, which has haunted me for years – an account by a young Westerner who joins one of the few remaining salt caravans across the Sahara, and nearly dies on the journey, from heat, thirst, loneliness … the book made a huge impression on me, and of course, I’ve forgotten his name and the title.


Filed under DESERTS