Every once in a while, I have to take a dip in the refreshing, silly, brilliant prose of P.G. Wodehouse, which I did most recently with "The Luck of the Bodkins," first published in 1935. The complicated but beautifully realized story takes place mostly on board a cruise ship, steaming from England to the U.S. and carrying a full crew of classic Wodehouse upper-crust English loons, along with a large, pushy but worried American moviemaker and a resourceful, red-headed American movie star. A cabin steward with a gift for gossip and for telling long puzzling stories about himself also appears in many scenes.
There are so many pleasures in a Wodehouse novel, it's hard to know where to start. But one of the amazements of his novels are the plots, which are fabulously complicated yet always perfectly plausible and easy to follow. The novels are like beautiful, ornate watches that always tell the wrong time: The content is nonsense but the structure is astonishing.
Yet the nonsense is so entertaining! Wodehouse doesn't aim at easy jokes or cheap laughs (there are a few unfortunate exceptions to this, such as when a character in one novel puts on blackface, but I've decided to forgive him those). Instead, he builds up the comic tension, allowing the laughs to flow from his characters' innate absurdities and their interactions. He is the master of the recurring joke, and as his cast makes his way about the confined spaces of the ocean liner in "The Luck of the Bodkins," the jokes recur over and over.