Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wake up Sir, A Princess in Roumania

Jenna got Wake Up, Sir out of the library for me, knowing I'm a big Wodehouse fan. Ames is not really channeling Wodehouse in this story, so much as he's using Wodehouse as a jumping-off point to do his own thing. His main character, Allan, is a Jewish author, who's published one book, but is having trouble on his second. When he comes into some money from a lawsuit, he hires a valet named Jeeves, and proceeds to get into trouble.

The Jeeves in Wake Up is actually pretty clearly imaginary, which is a pointer to Ames's literary goals -- he's not just Bertie Wooster to America. Allan is an unreliable narrator, a drunk with frequent blackouts and psychotic episodes, and Jeeves, being imaginary, can't really help him out of his problems. (Allan's also an intellectual -- his favorite books are Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, where Bertie can barely make his way through cheap mystery fiction).

But this was also the crux of why I couldn't finish the novel. It's a comic novel, and I feel uncomfortable laughing at a guy who clearly belongs in a mental institution. The humor is often cruel (Allan gets into a fight and gets his nose broken), which Wodehouse always avoids. Bertie is sometimes threatened by, e.g. Spode, but the threats are never carried through, and that's why they remain funny.

Paul Park's A Princess in Roumania is a YA-ish novel. It's not really marketed at YA, but that seems to be its focus, as a coming-of-age story of a girl suddenly transported to a magical Europe. As such, it's a much easier read than Park's previous novels, like the Starbridge Chronicles, which were incredibly dense. This is a much simpler novel than those, which is a pity, but it's still very satisfying. Park's use of magic is very elusive -- there's a sense that it's very mysterious, which I really liked. Unfortunately, it's book 1 of a tetralogy, so it's difficult to say much about the overall shape of the series at this early point.