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CA VA AT L'HOTEL MAGNIFIQUE
on 17 August 2009
A REVIEW OF 'FRENCH LEAVE' BY P.G. WODEHOUSE
'French Leave' is one of the more obscure novels in the P.G. Wodehouse canon. Indeed, it is notoriously tricky finding a copy these days. Written in 1955, it contains none of his established characters (not a Wooster, Emsworth, Ukridge or Psmith in sight), nor is it set in his more familiar territory of rural England, bustling London or sunny Hollywood. As such it is something of an oddity from the pen of such a prolific writer, albeit an enjoyable one.
The principal story revolves around various misunderstandings and schemes in the France resort of St. Rocque, where real millionaires mix with pretend millionaires and genuine (but penniless) aristocrats talk on level terms with yacht-owning sparkling water magnates. The inter-linking of characters has all the makings of a typical weekend at Blandings Castle. Among the convoluted twists-and-turns, we follow the fortunes of a young American girl, Terry (short for Teresa) and her search for a rich husband, which leads her to the door of titled-but-poor, Jeff. There are some fine comic moments along the road towards true love, most of which occur one fateful night in the Hotel Magnifique, and which see a conniving chief-of-police on the receiving end of a black eye (a "marron" in Wodehouse speak), and more on-off engagements than you could expect from the complete works of Jane Austin! These scenes play like a fine stage farce, and it is not difficult to imagine doors of a set opening and closing as characters enter and exit the scene with perfect comic timing.
However, 'French Leave' perhaps lacks the warmth of the very best of Wodehouse's books. The intricate plotting does much to cover up the fact that none of the protagonists here have the genuine likeability of his most popular characters. Indeed, this reviewer found the shenanigans of the irresponsible Old Nick (Marquis de Maufringneuse) rather trying, given that he came across as a rather inferior and rather underhand Galahad Threepwood. Likewise, the blending of French and English-speaking characters is a little awkward, and not enough is made of attempts by one side to speak the other's language to comic effect.
Nevertheless, 'French Leave' is thoroughly-enjoyable fluff, the perfect fare for a holiday reading in the sun. This may not be 5 star luxury Wodehouse, but it certainly provides comfortable accommodation for an amusing break.