Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Adventures of Sally (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Kara Shallenberg

I listened to this book for free via LibriVox. It's also available for download via Project Gutenberg.

There are a few spoilers in this review.

Synopsis:

Sally, a beautiful young American woman, inherits a small fortune. After using some of that fortune to take a trip to France, she meets Ginger and his cousin, Bruce Carmyle. Ginger, the good-hearted black sheep of his too-proper family, falls instantly in love with Sally, but, unfortunately for him, Sally is already engaged.

Sally heads back to New York, where she is much surprised to see Ginger again. Inspired by Sally, Ginger is determined to make a go of his life without his family's help, and Sally decides to help him out by arranging for him to be employed by her brother.

Things start to fall apart. Sally's brother bites off more than he can chew - rather than cautiously building on the success of "The Primrose Way," a play he produced (I think) with the help of Sally's money, he goes off in all kinds of reckless, supposedly money-making directions. Sally's fiance turns out to be a selfish jerk, and Sally finds herself pursued by Bruce Carmyle, who she does not like. Although Ginger can't fix any of Sally's problems, it makes her feel better to talk to him (or even just write to him), but can she recognize the one thing going right in her life before it's too late?

Review:

I expected to love this book. Its setup seemed very similar to another one of Wodehouse's works, Jill the Reckless (see my post for that book). The main female character is engaged to a guy who seems great but turns out not to be. Both books involved theater productions with horribly dysfunctional things going on behind the scenes, both books featured charming, much-loved heroines, and both books included relatives who were less than stellar about not wasting the heroine's money.

I sat back, expecting another fun romantic comedy, but the longer I listened, the more I disliked this book. I didn't like Sally as much as the characters seemed to, I hated that Ginger seemed to find nothing wrong with the way Sally treated him, Sally's brother was completely unappealing, and just about every scene near the end that involved Sally and either Bruce Carmyle or Gerald either made me mad or chilled me when I thought about what Sally had only narrowly avoided. Sally didn't even avoid disaster by her own wits. No, her happy ending just fell into her lap.

It started out fairly promisingly. Sally and Ginger were cute together (although, even that early on in the book, there were things I disliked about their relationship), and Sally seemed nice enough. I was a little surprised at how similar some things seemed to be to Jill the Reckless, but I decided I was okay with more of the same, if that was what it was going to turn out to be. I figured Sally's brother would be like Jill's Uncle Chris, and Gerald would be like Derek Underhill. I wasn't, at first, sure that Ginger was really going to be the guy Sally would end up with, since he seemed less like Wally and more like Freddie – I wondered if maybe Bruce Carmyle would turn out to secretly be a great guy and morph into Sally's surprise love interest.

Noticing the similarities between Jill the Reckless and The Adventures of Sally only seemed to put The Adventures of Sally's faults in greater relief. Jill was nice, naive, and in possession of both a spine and her pride. I found her interactions with Wally to mostly be charming. Sally's interactions with Ginger, on the other hand, did not have the same effect on me. I thought Sally treated Ginger like a cute, squirming puppy. It seemed to me like she used him when she needed him (he was her emotional sounding board), but she never seemed to recognize that she was taking without giving much in return. Then again, I think Wodehouse intended to his readers to see Sally's beauty, energy, and interest in talking to Ginger as reward enough.

I hated it when Sally wrote Ginger letter after letter, but asked him not to write her in return – she knew he was attracted to her and probably missed her, so if she was going to use him as a way to vent, the least she could have done was let him write her back. I found her behavior selfish, and the worst of it was that Ginger didn't see it that way. He happily did whatever Sally asked, because he liked having whatever contact with her she was willing to give. While I didn't want Sally to end up with Gerald (who I imagine would have eventually turned into an alcoholic, abusive husband) or Mr. Carmyle (who had never really been in love with her, anyway), I didn't want Sally to end up with Ginger until Ginger proved that he wasn't going to let her walk all over him and that he could love Sally without putting her on a pedestal. Unfortunately, I don't think Ginger got to that point, or at least Wodehouse didn't take the time to show it.

I was pretty sure I'd continue to dislike Sally's brother until the very end (I did), but I was surprised at how deep my dislike of Gerald ended up going. I think the last straw, for me, was when he got drunk, broke things, and whined to Sally about all the things that had gone wrong in his life. While Gerald came across as pathetic and potentially abusive (I shudder to think what his and Sally's married life would have been like once his plays started to flop), Mr. Carmyle just came across as cold and over-controlled. I didn't end up disliking him as much as I did Gerald, but I was incredibly frustrated with Sally for not only agreeing to marry him (which I could have forgiven – everyone has weak moments), but also for choosing to stick with that decision. She kept saying that she had to marry Mr. Carmyle because she said she would. I didn't see why she couldn't just tell him she'd changed her mind.

Sally's self-destructive stubbornness would have been her downfall, except that a misunderstanding fixed everything without her having to do a thing but keep her mouth shut. I would have much preferred it if she had purposefully done something with the intention of fixing her own mistakes, and it was incredibly disappointing that good fortune just fell into her lap.

I would recommend that those looking for a light, fun comedy by Wodehouse read Jill the Reckless instead. I'd only recommend The Adventures of Sally to someone if they were looking for something a little less bright and shiny – I do think The Adventures of Sally had a slightly darker feel than Jill the Reckless, particularly near the end.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Diary of a Provincial Lady (book) by E.M. Delafield - I haven't read this yet. It's a comedy about a Provincial Lady's nice house, nice husband, and nice children. 
  • Make Way for Lucia (book) by E.F. Benson - This is another comedy I haven't read yet. The main character of this one sounds like she has all the terrifyingly awesome force of personality of one of P.G. Wodehouse's female characters, so those who liked Sally and were also rooting for her to barrel through all her problems might like this.
  • Legally Blonde (live action movie) - Blonde sorority president Elle Woods follows her boyfriend to Harvard, determined to win him back from the girl he thinks will make a better future wife for him (in his mind, Elle would probably work better as a secret mistress). Law school turns out to be harder than Elle expected...and, surprisingly, she starts to excel at it. It's not earth-shattering stuff, but it's fun, and there's even a smidgen of romance. I just found out that the movie is based on a book by Amanda Brown, but I'm not sure how similar it is. This might appeal to those who liked Sally's energetic and kind-hearted nature and want something else where the main character ends up with a good (if kind of bland) guy.
  • Tramps Like Us (manga) by Yayoi Ogawa - Something else with romance and a main female character who's trying to keep her life together while not noticing that the guy who's probably best for her is right under her nose. On the surface, Sumire is a confident and successful woman. However, emotionally, she needs an outlet, especially after she's demoted and her fiance dumps her for his pregnant mistress. In an attempt to scare off a young homeless man, she offers to let him stay with her if he'll be her pet. To her surprise, he gladly accepts her offer. I've written posts for volumes 1 and 2.

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