Uncle Bardie’s Book Selection: Summer Lightning

Summer Lightning
by P. G. Wodehouse
320 pages. The Overlook Press (September, 2003).

P. G. Wodehouse had a way with words. He walked that tight rope that comic writers, at least the great ones, walk. One step  to the left or one step to the right and they fall off into the abyss. But Pelham Grenville was always funny. In an English sort of way. As the saying goes, he had the knack. Only Mark Twain had more knack.

“Summer Lightning” takes us away to the fresh air and the country life of Blandings Castle. This tome could have easily been titled “Produce That Pig”. Instead Wodehouse chose “Summer Lightning”. Not sure why. The pig isn’t carrying that name. She is named the Empress of Blandings and that enormous pig is Lord Emsworth’s pride and joy. Lord Emsworth is the lord and master of Blandings Castle.

Unfortunately, the Empress is pig-napped. By none other than Ronnie Fish, Emsworth’s nephew and the son of Old Miles Fish of the Brigade Guards. In other words, Ronnie’s blue blood has blue blood. But he has no money. Dash it all.

So, what does a blue blood with no money do if he wants to marry a chorus girl named Sue Brown? He comes up with a scheme. He’ll temporarily borrow the pig, hide it out, then return it to his uncle for a rapturous applause from said uncle.

I was stunned to hear that someone of the aristocratic persuasion would sink so low. I blushed. My illusions were shattered. To break one of The Commandments. It’s one thing to break the adultery clause which aristocrats often do. At least, in the stories. But theft. No way. These are the noblesse oblige.

And the thefting does not stop there. The Hon. Gallahad, Emsworth’s bro, has all the dope on everybody in his class. For him, that is everybody that matters. Society, you know. He’s been saving up for years. Now he is producing his Reminiscences.

Those memoirs are so dastardly dastard two people want them snatched. Emsworth’s sister, Lady Constance, and Emsworth’s next door neighbor, who is accused of pig-napping. It seems thievery is alive and well among the aristocratic class at Blandings Castle. First the pig, now the manuscript.

On top of that, Hon. Galahad is going to steal the suspected pig stealer’s pig. Take that, you dastardly fellow. When all is said and done, this is the story of two pigs in a pokey, don’t you think?

Talk about your regular getting your signals crossed. Ronnie not only has goo-goo eyes for Sue Brown. Lord Emsworth’s niece, the exceedingly charming Millicent Threepwood, has shown interest in the good lord’s secretary, Hugh Carmody. Actually she’s shown more than interest. She’s in love.

Well, Hugh has to go into town. London, that is. To hire a detective for the missing pig. While he’s there, he decides a night on the town is just the thing. Calls up his old buddy, Sue Brown. She says, “Why not? What can it hurt?” They go dancing. Before he knows it, he will have some ‘splaining to do.

Ronnie, being the Fish he is, decides to drive up to London for a night with the Suze. Sees the Suze with another guy. Steam shoots out of both his ears and a volcano goes off. He heads back home and does the next best thing. Becomes engaged to Millicent who has found out that she too has been betrayed. I am telling you guys. Don’t do the bachelor or bachelorette party. It can end up with the wedding doing a Titanic.

Rupert Baxter, that most efficient of former efficient secretaries of Lord Emsworth, tells Emsworth’s sister, Lady Constance, he can deduce with all his deductibilities and find el missing pig-o. She believes him ’cause he’s her fav.

And who do you think this former secretary has his eye on for the leading suspect? The current secretary. Sounds like that green-eyed monster Jealousy has been let loose. Even if Hugh didn’t do it, the suspicion is enough to destroy Rupert’s rival in his Lordship’s affections.

But Hugh must have a partner. That pig is going to need tending while Hugh is gallavanting about, doing his thing. And does Mr. Efficiency have a suspect in mind? Yes, he does.

None other than Beach the Butler. Poor Butler. It sounds like the whale is about to be beached. Not only did he help Ronnie Fish, he is now suspected of the deed. Talk about something being rotten in Denmark. The fish is beginning to smell.

For whatever reason that fickled finger of fate has, Hugh and Millicent are thrown together. They discover the Empress. Before you know it, Beach shows up to feed the pig. When inquisitioned, he has a story. A story that will rescue Hugh from the purgatory of bachelorhood and allow him into the heaven of marriage to his one true love, Millicent. 

What’s the story? Now that would be a spoiler.

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