Published in 1929, Summer Lightning was actually the second Blandings book that I ever read – the first was, ironically, the one that follows on from this one.
It introduces one of Wodehouse’s greatest characters, Lord Emsworth’s younger brother Galahad. Gally, as he is known to all, had been a flamboyant man-about-town in his younger days who has moved back to Blandings to write his reminiscences. A man of imagination and with a sense of humour he brooks no nonsense from Connie or (as we shall see later) his other sisters. The description of him in the first chapter is a classic:
A thoroughly misspent life had left the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, contrary to the most elementary justice, in what appeared to be perfect, even exuberantly perfect physical condition. How a man who ought to have had the liver of the century could look and behave as he did was a constant mystery to his associates. His eye was not dimmed nor his natural force abated. And when, skipping lithely across the turf, he tripped over the spaniel, so graceful was the agility with which he recovered his balance that he did not spill a drop of the whisky-and-soda in his hand. He continued to bear the glass aloft like some brave banner beneath which he had often fought and won. Instead of the blot on a proud family he might have been a teetotal acrobat.
We also have most of the Blandings posse – Emsworth, Connie, Beach, and the Empress herself, plus one nephew, Ronnie Fish and another niece, Millicent Threepwood. Millicent is secretly in love with Emsworth’s secretary Hugo Carmody and Ronnie is secretly engaged to Sue Brown, a girl in the chorus at the Regal Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Without giving away all of the plot suffice it to say that the story revolves around the theft of the pig by Ronnie (in order to find it again and get into Emsworth’s good books) and the pursuit of the reminiscences by Connie and Sir Gregory Parsloe in order to stop them being published. The plot twists and turns as others become embroiled, Connie gets Baxter back to help get rid of the reminiscences, Ronnie gets jealous of both Hugo and Pilbeam (a private detective), and of course the almost obligatory imposter (Sue) makes her way into the Castle and is then exposed but in the end she has Gally on her side and love wins out over all obstacles.
Summer Lightning contains the first occurrence of something that happens at regular intervals through the rest of the saga: the theft of The Empress. Over the next few books she is stolen by several people – Ronnie, the first to do it, in this book, does it again in Heavy Weather. Gally does it too further on into the saga.
If we can think of Something Fresh as showing Wodehouse developing into a good humorous writer, and Leave it to Psmith being, as I said in an earlier blog the first of his really great books, then Summer Lightning shows his writing at the very best. This is Wodehouse at his peak! The humour is there, the plotting is superb and the standard is set for at least the next 30 years.