Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #49: A Pelican at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse

In 1969, I was busy being born and learning such important things as object permanence. But P.G. Wodehouse was at the other end of a long productive life, with nearly a hundred books behind him and a worldwide adoring fanbase. (Practically the only thing we had in common was that we both lived in New York State -- he on Long Island, me up in Albany.)

That has nothing to do with anything, but we do like to try to connect ourselves to our favorite authors, don't we? And Wodehouse is definitely one of mine: he found something he could do well and elevated light comedy to brilliance over and over again across more than seventy years. His work ethic was hugely admirable, his devotion to craft was amazing, and the results are just as purely entertaining now as they ever were.

A Pelican at Blandings was his new novel for 1969, that year I was born. (In the US, it was originally titled No Nudes Is Good Nudes, because it was the late sixties, and something had to be titled that.) It wasn't quite his last novel, either -- Wodehouse in his eighties was down from his earlier pace of production, but he was still good for a novel nearly every year, and had five more novels still to come after Pelican (plus one close enough to completion that it was published after his death in 1975).

As the title implies, this is a Blandings Castle story featuring Galahad (famously of the Pelican Club). The plot, as usual with Wodehouse, is almost beside the point: one of Lord Emsworth's domineering sisters returns from America for an unwanted visit, along with an even less pleasant friend, the Duke of Dunstable. Young lovers are sundered by their elders' meanness and unfortunate circumstances. Several impostors appear at the Castle. A valuable object is stolen, and is the center of several plots. The majestic Empress of Blandings, second-fattest pig in the county, is in danger of losing her appetite. But, in the end, it all turns out all right.

That's the joy of Wodehouse: he crafts intricate worlds full of complication and seeming heartbreak where everything does turn out all right, every time, and makes it sprightly and amusing the whole way. A Wodehouse book is the purest form of escapism, transporting us to a world that never was or could be, no matter how much we wish it did. Pelican is not one of his very best, true -- you can just see a glimpse of the tighter, brilliant book it could have been, with multiple attempts to steal and/or replace that nude painting happening simultaneously -- but it's funny and sunny and entirely plummy. If you haven't read Wodehouse before, what on earth are you waiting for?

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