Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jill the Reckless (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Don W. Jenkins

I listened to this for free via LibriVox, which is like Project Gutenberg for audio books. Incidentally, this book can be downloaded via Project Gutenberg. It is also available via Project Gutenberg under its alternate title, The Little Warrior.

Synopsis:

Jill's life is good, and she is happy. She has money, and she's engaged to Sir Derek Underhill. Then she encounters Wally, who, when they were children, used to be a big bully. Wally admits that he was in love with her, and still is. Jill likes his company and thinks he's nice, but she loves Derek, so the two of them go their separate ways.

Unfortunately, Derek's mother doesn't like Jill, and Derek starts to doubt that marrying Jill is really the best thing to do. These doubts coincide with Jill's uncle losing all of her money. Heartbroken after Derek ends their engagement, Jill heads to America with her Uncle Chris, where she becomes a chorus girl in a production that seems doomed to fail. When Jill meets Wally again, she gets another chance at love, but first she has to get over Derek.

Review:

There are times when listening to audio books makes my work go faster. Jill the Reckless made for perfect work-time listening – it was light and funny, and if I happened not to hear every single word it didn't really matter.

When I first started this book, I wasn't sure I'd like Jill. She was very naive, believing that her and Derek's love could easily withstand anything Derek's mother might throw at them. When her Uncle Chris lost all her money, Jill felt more sorry for Chris than for herself, seemingly unaware that her life had just been turned upside down. Of course, at the time she still figured she'd be marrying Derek soon, so I suppose money really wasn't all that big of a concern to her. Jill was nice, almost to a fault – she didn't get even a little angry at her Uncle Chris, despite the fact that anger would have been a perfectly natural emotion for her to feel.

Considering how broke Jill was during most of the book, I'm still not quite sure how she managed to do some things, like traveling to New York to find Uncle Chris. I have no idea how much that would have cost, but I would have thought it was more than she could afford. Maybe if I had been reading the book, rather than listening to it, things like that would have bothered me more.

Because I was listening to it, I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the humor. I appreciated that, although the cast of characters was fairly large, it was still easy to remember who everyone was and what part they played in the story. Derek was a bit of a jerk. His friend Freddie was a genial sort, but not very bright. Uncle Chris was a con-man to his very marrow – one of his few redeeming features was his affection for Jill and desire to make things right by her again (although she wouldn't have had any money problems if he hadn't caused them in the first place). Even the more minor recurring characters tended to be easy to remember and tell apart.

I think the main reason I started to really like Jill was that, although she was naive and nice to a fault, she also had a spine and would only take so much. When Jill was sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Mariner, she understood that her position was that of a poor relation. Since she had no money, she accepted that she had to repay them in other ways. When Mrs. Mariner asked Jill to read aloud to her, Jill did so without complaint, even though she disliked reading aloud. However, she wasn't a doormat, so when it became clear that she would take on the duties of the Mariners' hired man after he quit, she left at the first opportunity. There were a couple times near the end of the book when Jill was so awesome that I could barely contain my joy, even though she backtracked during one of those awesome moments because she discovered that her success would have come at the result of someone else having been cheated - like I said, Jill is very nice.

Besides Jill, another thing I liked about the book was its romance. Since Jill had both a spine and her pride, she didn't even consider getting back together with Derek when he decided he'd changed his mind about dumping her – thank goodness! She also didn't jump at the first opportunity to end up with another guy, no matter how nice that other guy was. As she said, she had to get past her residual feelings for Derek before she could even think about being with anyone else. As nice as Wally seemed, I wasn't keen on him being her rebound guy, so I was glad of this.

I didn't like the romance between Nelly and Freddie as much as I liked the romance between Jill and Wally, but that was mostly because I was kind of iffy about Nelly. Unlike Jill, Nelly was much more meek. She basically put Freddie on a pedestal - not so surprising, since he gave her much-needed money and asked nothing in return. My problem with this was that Nelly never seemed to realize that Freddie asked for nothing in return not only because he was a nice guy and she was a damsel in distress, but also because the money didn't mean nearly as much to him as it did to her. Also, I felt that Freddie's "love" for Nelly was as much due to her agreeable nature as anything else. He could say something completely idiotic, and I imagine Nelly would still smile and nod as though his every word were gold. Had Nelly and Freddie taken up a larger portion of the book, I might not have enjoyed it so much. Happily, Jill and Wally were the more prominent couple and were, in my opinion, on much more equal footing with each other.

Overall, this was a fun read that put a smile on my face and left me in a good mood after I'd finished. I have a feeling my work-time listening will include more of Librivox's Wodehouse offerings if they're all as enjoyable as this.

I suppose that, since this is an audio book, I should say a bit about the reader. He took a bit for me to get used to - one of these days, I would love to listen to a Wodehouse book read by an English reader. There were times I could practically hear Jenkins reading from a sheet of paper, but at other times he sounded much smoother and more natural. I thought he did a particularly good job with Wally and Uncle Chris's "voices."

I'm sure there must be even better read-alikes for this book that the ones I've listed, but I'm having trouble thinking of them. For now, this is the best I can do.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  •  American Gods (book) by Neil Gaiman - This really isn't all that similar to Jill the Reckless - the tone is much darker, and there are significant fantasy aspects. However, Uncle Chris made me think of Mr. Wednesday, who is also a cheerful and unrepentant con-man. If you'd like something with a bit more humor, you might give Anansi Boys a try. That book has the added fun of some frustrating family members.
  • Make Way for Lucia (book) by E.F. Benson - The main character of this one sounds like she has all the terrifyingly awesome force of personality of one of P.G. Wodehouse's "formidable female relatives." Those who'd like another comedy might want to try this.
  • Moving Pictures (book) by Terry Pratchett - Another comedy, although of a different "flavor" than Jill the Reckless, and with the addition of fantasy elements. Those who enjoyed the parts in Jill the Reckless dealing with the craziness of theater life might enjoy this book, in which the movie industry makes an appearance in the Discworld.
  • Diary of a Provincial Lady (book) by E.M. Delafield - A comedy about a Provincial Lady's nice house, nice husband, and nice children. At least one reviewer on Amazon included some snippets from the book, which convinced me that I must read this at some point.
  • Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - Kyoko is so devoted to her boyfriend that, when he decides to pursue his dreams of becoming a famous singer, she drops everything to follow and support him. Then she catches him cheating on her, and her sole purpose in life becomes getting revenge on him, which she decides would best be accomplished by becoming a bigger star than he is. Kyoko's single-minded focus on her boyfriend (whether she was loving him or hating him) turned me off on this series at first, but, if you stick with it, Kyoko turns out to be a truly wonderful character. Like Jill, she takes charge of her life and doesn't let anything stand in her way. This series contains both comedy and romance. I have written about the anime.

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