Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse

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Autumn’s here, but don’t despair. There’s this:

‘It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, midway between luncheon and tea, when Nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.’

Yes, the first paragraph sets the tone. You either warm to it or mentally curl up in a peevish ball. If the latter, I’m sorry for you. Summer Lightning is the usual P.G. Wodehouse set-up: chaps are hiding behind laurel bushes, getting other chaps to pass on love letters, identities are misappropriated, people jump unexpectedly out of windows, a pig is stolen, romance is thwarted, order is restored, other chaps are sent packing – it’s all here. In his brilliant introduction, Wodehouse himself answers a critic who complained that his last novel contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. ‘With my superior intelligence,’ the author explains, ‘I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.’ That’s the way to do it: airy, gentle, funny. We are back at Blandings Castle, where Lord Emsworth’s heart’s desire is for his prize sow the Empress to win silver medal in the Fat Pigs class at the Shropshire Agricultural Show for the second year running. But Blandings is not complete without an impostor or two in it: this time round there are several, all present for their own ludicrous (but scrupulously logical) reasons. The names alone are worth the price of admission: Buffy Struggles, Puffy Benger, Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe… Many of these appear in the racy memoirs of Sir Galahad Threepwood, whose publication threatens social havoc. Lasting pleasure is found in Wodehouse’s beautiful turns of phrase: one character is ‘running a risk which would have caused his insurance company to purse its lips and shake its head’, for instance; another, lacking in tact, is ‘the sort of man who would have tried to cheer Napoleon up by talking about the Winter Sports at Moscow’. If you’re still not sure, all a sportsman like me can do is to direct you to p27 of the Arrow paperback edition. Just read the page. It is comic genius.

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