Friday, February 17, 2017
Book Review: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan
I just saw that a panel discussion with authors was being held where the main topic was why it's important to keep writing during a time of turmoil, and that is this book's thesis. Nell has some wonderful things happen in her life, like her darling son Hillyard (Hilly or short) and great friends and eventually, a lover interest. But she's had some bad things too, such as her first husband, and eventually the death of people close to her. The book spans about 50 years so some of the sad things are inevitable (although towards the end it did feel a bit like a piling on). And when bad things happen (the sinking of the Lusitania with friends on board, the outbreak of The Great War and Hilly's enlistment), time and again, she turns to the wonderful, witty, often hilarious novels of the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse. Nell is a teacher and a great lover of literature, and while the small town of Harvester, MN doesn't have a real library (at least not until the end of the book), Nell is able to borrow books, and a wealthy family does endow an honor library at the local power company early on. At one point Nell even writes Mr. Wodehouse a fan letter, which expresses something I've said many times myself (although she says it more eloquently), about how books can save a life. It might not feel that way, especially for novels that might even get dismissed as lightweight and silly, but there are times when our own trials are so difficult to bear, that we need to escape, and to find humor in life, most especially at times when we might otherwise fear we'll never know humor again.
Personally, I read Life With Jeeves, a Wodehouse collection of 4 novels during my wedding planning, which was one of the most stressful times in my life. I wholeheartedly agree with Nell that Wodehouse is one of the best distractions from life, when life is being a jerk. And sadly for Nell, who is a smart, kind, decent woman, life is often jerky. Sometimes we all feel that life has been unusually jerky. 2016 was like that. And why didn't I read any Wodehouse in 2016? Why didn't I read this lovely book? I meant to, but I kept getting sidetracked. I am overjoyed I finally got to it, and annoyed that I didn't read it sooner. This book was occasionally delightful, sometimes heartbreaking, but always thoughtful and touching. As a novel of small-town Midwest in the first half of the 20th century, it is a wonderful slice of Americana with a heart of gold.
I checked this book out of the library.