Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Psmith in the City (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by various people

I listened to this for free via LibriVox. The various readers are: Kristen McQuillin; Neal Foley, the Podchef; Kara Shallenberg; Chris Goringe; Aaron Andrade; Luke Venediger; Eileen; and Miette.


Mike, whose first appearance was in Mike: A Public School Story, assumes his near-future is set: he will go to a university, where he will study and continue playing cricket. However, all of that becomes impossible when his father reveals that the family is having extreme financial difficulties. Mike will now have to work for a living.

Mike's first job is at the New Asiatic Bank, a place he doesn't really like but that he gradually grows accustomed to. It helps that his eccentric friend Psmith now also works at the New Asiatic Bank. Just as in Mike: A Public School Story, Mike is a good guy who doesn't always think through the consequences of his actions. He helps a supervisor he is fond of without considering what he will do if he is fired in that supervisor's place. When he finally succumbs to an unbearable temptation to play cricket rather than working at the bank like he should, it doesn't occur to him until it's too late that he will probably be fired for leaving work without permission.

In both cases, Mike is prepared to face the consequences of his ill-thought-out actions. However, luckily for him, he has Psmith for a friend. Usually, Psmith seems unfazed by life's problems - they are little more than amusements to him. When helping his friend, however, there seems to be no problem that Psmith can't somehow solve with quick thinking, a few skillful words, or even blackmail.


Although this book does feature some cricket, happily it does not feature nearly as much cricket as Mike: A Public School Story. Even more happily, it features quite a bit of Psmith. Although I think this book still followed Mike around more than it did Psmith, Psmith once again stole the show.

Psmith was just as awesome in this book was he was in Mike: A Public School Story. As I was listening to this book, it occurred to me that he and House (from the TV show House M.D.) are a lot alike. I think both characters view the people around them as either amusing, and therefore worth talking to, or not. Psmith is smoother and more diplomatic than House, but both characters have a tendency to act emotionally removed from those around them, and Psmith's friendship with Mike reminds me a lot of House's friendship with Wilson.

I do think Psmith likes Mike, but theirs does not seem to me to be a deep friendship. When Psmith tormented Mr. Bickersdyke in the guise of trying to help him, there was at least one point where Mike tried to get Psmith to admit what he was really doing, but Psmith never dropped out of character, not even with Mike. I think Psmith views Mike less as an equal and more as a...pet, maybe?

Mike can be a bit rash at times, and he has cricket on the brain more than is perhaps good for him, but he's basically a good guy. In Mike: A Public School Story, he demonstrated that by arranging it so that his brother would get to play cricket instead of him, even though he wanted to play just as badly. In this book, Mike took the blame for a mistake at the bank so that Mr. Waller, his beloved supervisor, wouldn't be fired, even though he understood that he would probably be fired in the man's place. So, although I didn't think Psmith saw Mike as his equal, I could see what someone like Psmith would see in someone like Mike, and I cheered when Psmith swooped in and blackmailed Mr. Bickersdyke after Mike had done his good deed.

I cheered a little less loudly when Psmith saved Mike again near the end of the book. Mike, as usual, had cricket on the brain, and cricket kept him from thinking clearly until after he'd made his final mistake. Mike, at least, accepted that he'd made a mistake, didn't make excuses for himself, and tried to think about what he would do once he was officially fired from the bank. It never once occurred to him to ask Psmith to save him the way he had several times before. In fact, I don't think Mike ever asked Psmith to save him, not in this book, nor in Mike: A Public School Story. Although I did want to smack Mike for being such a jock – yes, working at the bank isn't always fun, but, darn it, it was a guaranteed way to pay the bills and put food on the table, and the same could not be said about cricket, no matter how good Mike thought he was – my problem was more with Psmith than with Mike.

I enjoyed it when Psmith saved the day through his quick wit, excellent speaking skills, and interest in any little tidbit of information about those around him. Although I suppose some of those things came into play when Psmith arranged for everything to turn out all right for him and Mike (while at the same time robbing Mr. Bickersdyke of his ability to gloat – ha!), I didn't find it quite as satisfying as when Psmith blackmailed Mr. Bickersdyke in order to save Mike after Mike took the blame for Mr. Waller's mistake. Basically Psmith saved the day by manipulating his own father (I'm assuming Psmith got his brains and sharp wit from his mother, because they can't have come from his father) and making use of his family's money. Using his family's money felt almost like cheating, to me – I would have preferred it if he had somehow once again saved the day with cleverness and words alone.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. I think it's probably possible for someone who hasn't read Mike: A Public School Story to enjoy this, although Psmith in the City does contain a few references to events from that book. I certainly would recommend Psmith in the City over Mike: A Public School Story, if only because it has more Psmith in it.

As far as the LibriVox version of this book goes, I was a little bit wary when I saw that it was read by multiple readers. One person would read a few chapters, and then it would switch to the next person, who would read a few chapters, and so on. I came to like this, however. I found that there were some readers I enjoyed more than others (Chris Goringe really grew on me), and I thought all of them did at least a decent job. If there was anyone I didn't quite like, I had only to wait for a few chapters and another reader would take over.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  •  House M.D. (live action TV series) - Like I said, House is like a more caustic version of Psmith. If you like Psmith and Mike's friendship, you'll probably love watching House and Wilson.
  • The Only Gold (e-book) by Tamara Allen - I debated adding this one to the list. If you're willing to take a bit of a chance and maybe read outside your comfort zone, this might be a good one to try. It's a historical m/m romance novel, but the book's few sex scenes aren't particularly long or detailed. In fact, romance fans might be a bit disappointed, since it takes 80 pages for noticeable hints of romance to appear. The main character works at a bank and had expected to be promoted...only to learn that someone new had been hired and given the job he had thought he would get. Those who'd like something else with a lot of focus on character interaction and a bank setting might want to try this. It's also available in paperback form.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (book) by Connie Willis -Willis' writing reminds me a lot of Wodehouse's, but, other than that and some clever, fun dialogue, this book doesn't have much in common with Psmith in the City. If you'd like more detail about it, in order to judge whether you'd like to try it, I've written a post about it.
  • Making Money (book) by Terry Pratchett - The main character in this fantasy novel is a con man who was given a reprieve, on the condition that he run Ankh-Morpork's royal mint. I honestly don't know how well someone unfamiliar with the Discworld would fare if they started with this book, but, if you do start with this one, just accept that the Discworld is strange and you might not always understand everything that's going on. Pratchett's humor is weird and fun. Those who'd like something else starring a sharp-witted character might want to try this.

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