A review by bruceolivernewsome
Laughing Gas, by P.G. Wodehouse


I often think of this novel as the pinnacle of one form of Wodehouse's fiction - the complex, insightful, meaningful satire of a real institution. In this case, the institution is Hollywood, which, a few years previously had been professionally disappointing for Wodehouse as a script writer, although it gave him great material for several novels based there. All are really satires. Laughing Gas in particular reminds me most of Waugh's satirical style: the rich complexity of the plot, the humor that is both entertaining but also bitingly insightful, the incorporation of larger social and political themes. Indeed, Laughing Gas is contemporaneous with Waugh's return to satire and maturation of the style (in particular: Scoop, coming two years later, was probably influenced by Laughing Gas). As one would expect from Wodehouse, Laughing Gas is memorable for several characters, of which I always remember the movie producers most: stereotypes indeed, but so well drawn. Laughing Gas is memorable too for a rare fantastical, other-worldly device: that of two characters switching bodies for a while (this starts while in dentist chairs succumbing to laughing gas). This device allows the adult British hero to experience life as a spoiled American child star, thereby exposing to the reader the dirty side of Hollywood, while the American child gets to wreak vengeance (mild) with the powers of an adult male body. Too much goes on in this novel to be summarized adequately here. Its complexity offers the joy of rereading and rediscovering, because much is unpredictable. Unlike some of Waugh's satires that end dis-satisfyingly inconclusive, this novel has resolutions and rewards for the characters' trials. You end with a feeling of a great journey, even an intellectual exercise, and narrative fulfilment, and much to ponder about the book even after you've finished reading the book itself.