This farce: so good

Blandings Castle

Ronald Fish loves Sue Brown. Hugh Carmody loves Millicent Threepwood. Ronald Fish thinks Sue Brown loves Hugh Carmody, but Percy Pilbeam is the real threat. Lord Galahad Threepwood is writing his memoirs, the mere prospect of which sends Lady Constance into spasms. Speaking of spasms, if Baxter doesn't return to the position of personal secretary at Blandings Hall, which Carmody has filled since the unfortunate flowerpot incident, her ladyship will have one, or at any rate wish one upon Emsworth, lord of the hall. But Baxter is too busy stealing that manuscript, while Carmody steals his lordship's prize pig; or did Sir Gregory steal the animal, to distract from Pilbeam, under his employ, finding those damn memoirs that he too wants destroyed? Well, over all this nonsense presides the woolgathering Lord Emsworth; or at least he would, if Lady Constance didn't try to do it for him. Besides, everyone knows Beach the butler is really in charge. But now, suddenly, he's hiding the pig and saving the manuscript and matchmaking the couple and fixing the drinks: something has to give.

Being spontaneously farcical is easy, as almost every character in Summer Lighting proves to him or herself sooner or later. Composing and executing the perfect farce as a writer, however, takes skill, effort and an innate recognition of the perfect balance of all your characters' desires and detractions against each other. The result of Wodehouse's hard work whizzes round at breakneck pace like a crazed fairground ride, out of control and with the glorious, whirring machinery just visible as it pirouettes its way down the hillside into the lake. The stored energy is released in a rush, and what could have been a foolish throwaway holiday read is both that and a complicated, enjoyable firework display.

The novel is eventually, easily, discarded. Of course: that's the point. But the short stories accompanying the novel, bound together in an out-of-print Heron edition, are a little too easily forgotten. The series, based around Lord Emsworth and his wayward son Freddie, disappoints. Each one's brevity reduces the possibility of complexity and energy that makes Wodehouse worth reading. You don't see the three chapters of winding up and clicking pieces in place; then any unwinding happens all too quickly and the pace is all wrong. Still, Wodehouse's writing still bangs a gong for a genre often condemned for its shallowness and silliness. Or was that Beach, calling us in for another course?