"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

September 24, 2011

"Psmith in the City" (1910) by Wodehouse (Book Review)

Psmith in the City is one of the earliest novels by English humorist P. G. Wodehouse (of Jeeves and Blandings Castle fame), first published in 1910. It tells the adventures of cricket-loving Mike Jackson and his immaculately-dressed, aristocratic friend Psmith (the "P" is not voiced - the “Psmith” name has been adopted "as there are too many Smiths").

Mike Jackson, cricketer, finds his dreams of studying and playing at Cambridge upset by his father's financial troubles, and must instead "go into commerce" by taking a job with the "New Asiatic Bank" in the London City. On arrival there, Mike finds his friend Psmith is also a new employee, and together they strive to make the best of their position, with heaps of black humor. The 9 to 5 life is a shock to both friends, but they are able to tweak the system with lots of "pottering" and escapes to long lunches.

It is a slight book that is still partly funny, especially the sections about office politics, how two bosses are made ineffectual, one by catering to his football hobby, the other by pestering him at his club. Psmith reveals himself as a schemer of deadly effectiveness, but also a "secret Socialist." The language is often surrealistic, many scenes are one wild farce -  the type of humor reminded me of Monty Python.