Book Review: Summer Lightning

Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse

I imagine that P.G. Wodehouse could probably knock a novel out like this without too much difficulty.  I say that not as a bad thing, but one gets the feeling in reading this novel that the author was comfortable and familiar with his characters and enjoyed throwing them together to see what interesting things would happen, with romantic (and other) subplots intersecting with each other as Lord Emsworth valued peace and quiet while no one else let him have it [1].  Wodehouse’s choice to have at the center of his novel a man of rather plain and prosaic habits and a place of stability in Blandings Castle and surrounding him with a cast of schemers and eccentrics is, I think, quite the right choice, in that it gives a stable center to the plot even with the wheels within wheels of the plots that Wodehouse concocts.  The result is a pleasing mixture of the comfortable and familiar as well as the odd and zany that make for enjoyable comedic fiction.  Every writer, especially a prolific writer, has a comfortable wheelhouse and the author is clearly within his wheelhouse here.

In terms of its plot, there are at least a few elements that drive the bus, so to speak.  The main element is the fact that Sir Galahad is writing his memoirs and he has a lot of blackmail material on the elderly peers of England with whom he ran around with as a wild and dissipated young man, and a lot of people who want to see to it that such memoirs are never released.  Other plot drivers include Sue Brown, an attractive young chorus girl who is engaged to marry Ronnie Fish, nephew of Lord Emsworth, whose strange hold over men and the excessive jealousy of Ronnie lead to a great many problems with the law and with others.  One of these gentlemen is the head of a private investigation agency who is hired both to pilfer Galahad’s memoirs and to find out who pilfered Lord Emsworth’s prize pig.  Add to this an efficient but definitely eccentric Baxter trying to win back his old job at Blandings, and one has the makings of a pleasant read that lasts for about three hundred pages and does what you would expect it to with its winsome look at town and country and the lives of delightfully odd people.

It is almost irresistible to ponder some of the leitmotifs of the novel as they relate to the wider context of the author’s work as a whole.  Wodehouse looks at women to be either the on the side of angels like Sue or on the side of horrid aunts like Constance.  One wonders why this is the case, although someone who was inclined to write about literary criticism could find a great deal of thoughtful material in the author’s categories of people, where the most favorable people are those of love and devotion, whether to pigs, to a good time, or to one’s partner through thick and thin.  Those characters that are too efficient, on the other hand, are to be mistrusted as their plans cause other people uncomfortable change within their lives.  One can find a great deal of comfort in Blandings Castle and its inhabitants and guests, and this sort of pleasure likely accounted for a great deal of the popularity of the series as a whole.  The author does not idealize the aristocracy or those people who were more into hustling and bustling, but he does show that if you scratch beneath the surface there are eccentrics inside all of us–most of us at least.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Summer Lightning

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