Friday, 12 August, 2022

לוגו האתר - מחסום כתיבה
ג'ונתן איימס - התעורר אדוני!

Wake Up, Sir!

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Jonathan Ames is trying to be P. G. Wodehouse, but no matter how much he represses it, he is still just a pale shadow of the real thing.

Let’s start with a clarification – Jonathan Ames is not P. G. Wodehouse. Now that we have clarified that, we can continue. You know what? Just to be on the safe side, let us mark the differences between the two. We start with the fact that Wodehouse passed away in 1975 at the ripe old age of 93, when Jonathan Ames was a nine-year-old weanling. We continue with the fact that while Wodehouse was British to his bones, Jonathan Ames was born and raised in New York. And we can finish with the mere fact that Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was not a neurotic redheaded Jewish writer with a tendency for alcoholism and self-destruction which are reflected in his writing, while Jonathan Ames, well, is.

Now that we have clarified that, we can move on without any unnecessary concerns.

It seems that the one person that doesn’t realize that Jonathan Ames is not P. G. Wodehouse is Jonathan Ames himself, who has done everything he can to turn his third novel into some sort of a tribute to his revered author. The problem is that what we get at the end of the day is a pale shadow of the real thing.

Wake Up, Sir! tells the story of a young alcoholic writer called Alan Blair, who is struggling with writing his second novel with no major success. He lives with his aunt and uncle and wastes his time, and his butler Jeeves’ time with cries over his bitter fate and with suicidal thoughts. Yes, you read it right. The young author has a butler named Jeeves, just like Wodehouse’s fabled butler. I must give Ames credit for acknowledging the fact by mentioning Wodehouse several times during the book. Though it would have been a little stupid if he ignored him completely. I mean, come on, your main character hired a butler named Jeeves. You are obviously referring to Wodehouse in one way or the other.

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the book, is everything Bertie Wooster (Jeeves’ original master) would never wish to be. He is a depressed whiner with a tendency to extreme self-awareness that draws him to weird circular thinking patterns that are so typical of the archetypical Jewish New York artist, so what we eventually get is a bizarre hybrid that could easily be the long lost son of Wodehouse and Woody Allen, if they both tried really hard to be less funny.

Even the character of Jeeves in Wake Up, Sir! is a faint shadow of the original. He is much less dominant than the butler we’ve learned to trust with our (love) lives; he lacks his intelligence, and he is insignificant in the course of the plot. The only thing that is left from the real Jeeves is the suit, the characteristic speaking manner and the name.

Yet, in order to artificially “Wodehousian” the book, the author throws his characters into a typical country estate, adds a feminine figure, which his protagonist would have to fall in love with, and amuse himself and his readers with a touch of slapstick.

I have to admit that I wasn’t amused. Jonathan Ames’s unsubtle slapstick is unsettlingly grotesque, so instead of laughing hilariously, as I was promised, I found myself moving uncomfortably in my seat.

Over and over again I read the back cover of the book, running into reviews quoted from Time Out New York, Slate, New York Magazine and other respected magazines. “HILARIOUS,” they sayd. “HILARIOUS” over and over again. Hilarious? Could it be that they read a different book? Because the book I read was not hilarious. Not even hilari or hil.

Anyone who has ever met me knows I have nothing against alcohol. I’ve been a bartender most of my life and I’ve loved every minute of serving drinks (and mostly drinking them). But in this particular case, I just can’t find anything funny in the way the lead character of the book manages to hit rock bottom and hurt himself, physically and emotionally, while ruining his relationships with anyone who cares about him, all because of the severe alcoholism he is suffering.

But this is not the only reason this book is not hilarious. The main reason it isn’t funny is because it is not funny. I have no idea how it got those reviews from such respected magazines when it was first published in 2004, but as it seems, most of the hype around it these days is carried on the back of Bored to Death, the TV series Ames created for HBO in the past few years (and by the way, presents the same character of a drunk neurotic author with a habit of getting in trouble).

In conclusion, a reasonable book, but most definitely not one of the funniest I have ever read. Two empty wine bottles and one shot of bourbon.

Wake Up, Sir! / Jonathan Ames / Pushkin Press

wake up, sir!

P.S.
Throughout the entire book, Blair is the only person that interact with Jeeves. No other character refers to him or even acknowledge his existence. Added to the fact that Alan Blair himself says that a psychiatrist he once saw said he was insane, and to his uncle’s reaction when he mentions the butler’s name, it made me think that maybe Jeeves doesn’t really exist outside of the (fictional) author’s mind and actually represents somewhat of his super-ego, that is designated to show a sane and balanced side to the whole story.

This could all possibly be hogwash nonsense, but if this is what he intended, it is quite a shame Ames didn’t bother to develop the subject and show how this bizarre relationship of the master and his super ego is seen by the outside viewer, with all the conflicts this kind of relationship could produce.


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