We all reach reach a point in life where we just have to accept that certain books, acclaimed as classics by everyone else, just aren’t going to click with us. P.G. Wodehouse’s works fall into that category, as far as I’m concerned. I recently made my third attempt to get through one of his novels, and gave up yet again after half-a-dozen chapters. Very embarrassing. I mean, I like to think I have a good sense of humour. Still, after stumbling across this 2004 entry in Alan Bennett’s diaries I don’t feel quite so guilty:
I start off, though, at a disadvantage in that, inspired though his language is, I can never take more than ten pages of the novels at a time, their relentless flippancy wearing and tedious. I am put off, too, by the Wodehouse fans, particularly since they’re pretty much identical with the cricketing tendency. Waugh is entitled to call Wodehouse a genius but even with Waugh there’s some feeling of self-congratulation at being the one to point it out. Nor does it help that Muggeridge was such a fan and the general chappishness of it all.
I don’t suppose Bennett struggles with “War and Peace” too, does he? That would really set my mind at ease. I’ve tried The World’s Greatest Novel four times, once in French (it actually reads much better that way) but I’ve never made it to the halfway point. As a matter of fact, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed anything by Tolstoy, mainly because of the feeling that he’s preaching at me. Whereas I read “Fathers and Sons” every few years and never get bored. Is it simply because less is more?