Monday, 13 December 2010

The Clicking Of Cuthbert

PG Wodehouse

I don't give a damn about golf. Not the slightest damn. And I'd put off reading The Clicking Of Cuthbert for precisely that reason. Why put up with moments of golf in my Wodehouse when I have plenty of golf-free offereings to be getting on with? Well, precisely.

But when reading Frances Donaldson's biography of the man, she claimed Cuthbert among her favourites. And as she came late in life to Wodehouse, and read the whole lot over a couple of years, she's in a much better position than anyone else I know to pick between them. Most people are like me: they've read anything from one to two dozen, mostly chosen at random, with a little unjustified balance toward the Wooster end of the canon, and they've read them at different times of their life, with different intensities, and most probably with changing tastes.

You could say my interest was captured; or that my appetite was well and truly whetted; or that I was hooked and lined, if not yet sinkered. Plum would say something funnier, obviously. So with some trepidation, I picked these golf stories off of shelf. Was I about to be disappointed by a favourite author? Was I acting rashly, blindly, no doubt leading myself into the inevitable despair that the tainting of the Wodehouse name would spin me into?

No. I was half-expecting to write a post about this book in which I would say that subject matter is not important when you're reading from the pen of Pelham Grenville. That's what I was half-expecting. I was right, it turned out, not to commit my expectation fully to this vision, because it turned out to be nonsense.

The subject matter is important. What makes The Clicking Of Cuthbert stand out from the Wodehouse crowd to the likes of Donaldson, is completely and utterly it's golfcentricism. I wish I was being insightful here, I really do, but the author points out this exact thing in the foreword ("Fore!").

As a writer of light fiction, Wodehouse often suffers from not actually straining, torturing and generally self-pitying his way through the writing of a novel. There is no pain at the heart of his prose. But when he writes about golf... he has been hurt. Clearly, he has strained, tortured and generally self-pitied his way round many a link. There is a hint of agony, never more than hinted at, that certainly sets this apart from Aunts Aren't Gentlemen or Something Fresh.

The other factor that marks the Cuthbert stories out is their narrator, the Oldest Member. Let me quote him.

Imitate the spirit of Marcus Aurelius. "Whatever may befall thee," says that great man in his Meditations, "it was preordained for thee from everlasting. Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear." I like to think that this noble thought came to him after he had sliced a couple of new balls into the woods, and that he jotted it down on the back of his score-card. For there can be no doubt that the man was a golfer, and a bad golfer at that. 

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