The American writer Jonathan Ames is someone you would describe as a Renaissance man, an author of numerous novels, essays and a graphic novel 'The Alcoholic', a columnist for The New York Press, creator of the HBO sitcom 'Bored to Death' starring Jason Schwartzman and Zach Galifianakis and soon to be aired 'Blunt Talk', starring Patrick Stewart and produced by Seth MacFarlane. He is also an amateur boxer, known as 'The Herring Wonder'.
With these varied strings to his bow, I expected his latest novel 'Wake Up, Sir!' to be a rip roaring delight, and indeed it was. A cauldron of wit, myriad themes and hilarity, Ames has conjured together a novel of unmistakable charm, not merely an endearing ode to the oeuvre of P.G. Wodehouse, 'Wake Up, Sir!' indeed draws inspiration from Wodehouse, but Ames' very unique mind creates something entirely new.
He delves deep into a variety of situations that many of us have experienced at some point in our life, be it love, friendship, anxiety, spiritual questioning etc. Dissecting each and every one, structuring them with an immense comedic flare and lyrical finesse.
The novels protagonist Alan Blair is a beautifully erudite, but flawed young writer, who is manifested with a true creative and incurably inquisitive spirit, along with all the problems that go with a creative mind. Alan is ably assisted by his loyal and loving man servant Jeeves.
Ames is a lyrical maverick, with a powerful lexicon and innate love of language, although the latter I don't feel he realises. Catching up with him on his journey to work, I got a chance to ask a few questions about his relationship with language and 'Wake Up, Sir!'.
On the novels inception he says "It emerged rather a long time ago now, I think it was in the year 2000. I was reading a lot of Wodehouse at the time, and you know I just wanted to write something that was as pleasurable to people as his books were for me, so I got this idea of creating a Bertie Wooster type character going to an artists colony, because I'd spent a lot of time in artists colonies and that was the closest thing I'd ever experienced of going to a country estate the way Bertie Wooster does."
The idea to actually begin writing the book took sometime "I was having lunch with a writer friend, and I told him this idea, he said I should just write it, and the experience of having someone so confident and self-assured saying just do it, I thought why not! so I went ahead and began writing."
When reading through each chapter of 'Wake Up, Sir!' I was struck with a real sense that Ames has a great love of the English language, but as he says "I never considered I had a love of language, but I wouldn't say that I don't have a love of language. I honestly don't feel like I'm a very strong writer, but I do enjoy writing sentences. I find great pleasure in trying to write or make a sentence, really the essence of it is in making something. My grammar was never that good, I always find grammar is rather like mathematics for my brain, and I didn't really understand grammar and still don't have the greatest grasp on it. I had a job as a composition teacher at a business college in 1995, and that really helped me in structuring sentences.
Throughout the novel, what we understand as very contemporary situations, problems etc, are examined and explored, but with a distinct essence of nostalgia. On mixing the contemporary with the undertones of nostalgia Ames explains "Alan his life like he's from another era, and I think for a long time I was living in the romance of the past myself, and also all the books I read tend to be from the past, I don't really read any contemporary literature, it's a weakness of my character I suppose. So, that might add this sense of it being from another time, and the voice of the books narrator is like it's from another era. So, because he's sort of trying to sound a little bit like Wodehouse, it has an old world feel."
The most endearing aspect of the novel is the relationship between Jeeves and Alan, it is one of the most solid relationships in Alan's life. "They both love each other, and that might have been my approach to it" Ames says "I think for me the character of Jeeves was born out of this thing where I used to speak to a Jeeves in my own mind, as if there was a Jeeves inside of me that might take care of me, and so I think this character was born out of a desire to be taken care of, perhaps by ones own self, but a genuine affection and a love of sorts between exists between these two characters.
'Wake Up, Sir' is a genuinely brilliant novel, a neatly crafted slice of literary chaos with some heart-warming tenderness added to the mix.
Wake Up, Sir! is published in the UK by Pushkin Press