A few of my favourites, before I tell you my *absolute* favourite, and then tell you that the novel was pretty good too...
Tea Is So Intoxicating - Mary Essex
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes - Anita Loos
The Brontes Went To Woolworths - Rachel Ferguson
Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns
No One Now Will Know - EM Delafield
But the one that comes out on top, because it works on at least two levels, and is intrinsically funny, is... Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by PG Wodehouse.
Ok, wonderful title aside, this is also a great little novel. To be honest with you, I haven't met a PG Wodehouse novel I haven't devoured happily. According to my little drop-down author menu, the only Wodehouse I've written about on here was Indiscretions of Archie, another fab title, and enjoyable, but probably the worst of the Wodehouses I've read. Aunts Aren't Gentlemen is back on form - and the first Jeeves and Wooster novel I've read.
Wooster is sent off to the countryside by a doctor because of his 'young man about town' lifestyle has had a disastrous effect on his general health. He plumps for an Aunt in Worcestershire (land of my upbringing!)
"Is the air pure there?"
"Excursion trains are run for people to breathe it."
"Your life would be quiet?"
Sadly, said Aunt Dahlia is herself off to Maiden Eggesford, Somerset (she's following me around the country!) and so Wooster decides to follow her there, Jeeves in tow, naturally.
It is one of those villages where there isn't much to do except walk down the main street and look at the Jubilee watering-trough and then walk up the main street and look at the Jubilee watering-trough from the other side.This bit amused me, because whenever Mel and I visit a little village, we look out for their Millennium Project. Every village has one, usually fairly humble, and generally unveiled in mid 2003. I've seen Millennium benches, signposts, woods, stones... all sorts.
This being Wodehouse, all sorts of coincidences have come together to make more or less everyone Wooster knows turn up in Maiden Eggesford. There's a woman he once asked to marry him, as well as her more recent beau; there's a man he once cheated and gave a fake identity to; there is even Jeeves' own aunt. It all gets a little complicated as two rival households are going in for a horse race, only one of the horses is closely attached to a cat, and is inconsolable without it... and Aunt Dahlia (betting on the other horse) decides to have the cat kidnapped. Or catnapped, if you will. Hence the title - it's not cricket, she is not acting like a gentleman. And so it all begins.
I love Wodehouse's writing, with its mixture of hyperbole and litotes - I love the unbreakable calm of Jeeves, against Wooster's exaggerations and whimsical turn of phrase (I love that he always cheerfully calls Aunt Dahlia either 'aged relative' or 'old ancestor' - but don't think I'll be trying this out on my own aunts. Who are not, for that matter, particularly old):
"Have you ever seen a garrison besieged by howling savages, with their ammunition down to the last box of cartridges, the water supply giving out and the United States Marines nowhere in sight?"
"Not to my recollection, sir."
I just find Wodehouse endlessly funny. But I must confess - I thought Aunts Aren't Gentlemen would be my favourite ever Wodehouse, centring (as it does) around a cat - but, for some reason, the cat is given very little personality. I love reading about cats, and I'd have thought Wodehouse would be on top form writing about one... but perhaps he is not a cat person. Shame.
But, even though this doesn't reach the dizzying heights of its feline potential, it is great fun and very good - sometimes a Wodehouse just hits the spot in a way that no other book can. If you've never read one before - well, firstly, I'm a little horrified - secondly, why not start with this one?