Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England, a Tale of the Great Invasion (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Kristin Hughes

Another book I listened to for free via Librivox. This book is also available via Project Gutenberg.

Synopsis:

When England is simultaneously invaded by 9 different armies, the country's fate lies in the strength of one of its biggest secret societies, the Boy Scouts. Clarence, a Boy Scout held in great esteem by his colleagues, has concocted a plan to overthrow the invaders.

Review:

This book was very different from the P.G. Wodehouse books I'm used to. Unlike Wodehouse's Jeeves books or Jill the Reckless, The Swoop!'s characters weren't really the focus of the story. The summary on the Librivox page indicates that this book has many references to well-known figures of Wodehouse's time – I caught not a single one of those references, but that would explain why, although characters, like Clarence and the German and Russian generals, do exist, they all felt more like caricatures than actual people. Maybe they really were caricatures.

Even though certain aspects of The Swoop! apparently went completely over my head, I still enjoyed this, although not nearly as much as some of Wodehouse's other books. It felt like the weird fantasies of a nerdy little Boy Scout who is convinced that he is unappreciated.

Part of the book's humor came from the general English reaction to being invaded. Despite how dire the situation was, hardly anyone even seemed to notice, unless the invaders' actions interfered with, say, cricket. When 9 armies total invaded, all at once, the under-reaction was just absurd. English life went on as usual, with the invaders being incorporated into the country's entertainment.

The Boy Scouts, too, were a source of humor. As a secret society, they were extremely well-organized, with far-reaching and subtle powers. Each member was able to imitate the strangest of animal sounds – I think the one that struck me as the weirdest was the “faint note of a tarantula singing to its young.” Clarence, who got no respect in his own home, was practically a celebrity among the Boy Scouts.

Wodehouse also poked fun at descriptive reporters, who, when they could not be present at the final battle between the Germans and Russians, decided to just make things up. There's also a bit in the book where one particularly awful article is present almost in its entirety.

This may be my shortest review in a long time – there's not really much more I can say about this book other than that it is bizarre and very short (just over 2 hours, according to the Librivox page). I liked it well enough, but I much prefer Jill the Reckless and Wodehouse's Jeeves books.

I listened to this right after I finished Jill the Reckless, so it felt odd, at first, switching from Don W. Jenkins to Kristin Hughes. I eventually decided her voice really did fit well with the book, especially during the part with Mr. Bart Kennedy's painfully bad article.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Shaun of the Dead (live action movie) - If you laughed at England's under-reaction to being simultaneously invaded by 9 different armies, you may want to try this British horror-comedy. The main character and his best friend take ages to realize that zombies have taken over. The movie is a bit slow-paced, but, if you can put up with that, very funny.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers (manga) by Hidekaz Himaruya; Hetalia: Axis Powers (anime TV series) - This comedic series has no real plot. Its events occur primarily between World War I and World War II. Its characters are stereotypes of various countries - they tend to be funny and endearing, although I suppose what you think of them depends upon what you think of the stereotypes they're composed of. The way the various countries were presented in The Swoop! made me think of this series. I have written about the anime and the first volume of the manga.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (book) by Connie Willis - This comedic book might actually be a better read-alike suggestion for those who prefer Wodehouse's Jeeves series, but something about The Swoop! (possibly the bit where a stuffy-nosed invader argued about grammar with Clarence?) made me think of this. In the future, historians research the past by traveling back to their chosen time period. In order to get a bit of rest, the main character of this book travels back to Victorian England. He's given a task to complete, but he didn't hear what it was. He falls in love, tries to evade his boss, and must somehow make sure not to damage the timeline. I have written about this book.
  • Hark! a Vagrant (webcomic) by Kate Beaton - The Swoop!'s humor reminded me of this hilarious webcomic, which often features various historical figures. Beaton now has a book out, also called Hark! a Vagrant.
  • Jingo (book) by Terry Pratchett - I can't believe I forgot to add Pratchett to the list of read-alikes, so I updated this post to add him. Jingo, which deals with war in the Discworld, would be a good book to try if you'd like another humorous take on war.

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