If you have never read a book by P.G. Wodehouse, do it now. Start with Leave it to Psmith or one of the Jeeves stories; then you can dive in to the rest of the oeuvre.
Once you’re hooked, you’ll be glad to know The Overlook Press, an independent publishing house, undertook in 2000 to reprint the Wodehouse library in a hardcover collector’s set based on the first British printing of each title. Next due off Overlook’s presses are The Gold Bat, first published in 1904, one of Wodehouse’s earliest; and The Girl in Blue, from 1970, one of his last. Wodehouse died in 1975 at age 93, having recently been knighted.
Fittingly, the one he wrote in his 20s is a peppy, short novel about cricket-playing youngsters at a fictional English academy, and the one he wrote in his 80s is a slower, less sprightly affair about a corporate lawyer and a stolen work of art. The first is energetic, if less smoothly skilled than his later works, and the latter is sedate with a touch of the air of having been phoned in, though still with a voice of wisdom.
Rather than staid aunts and uncles, fancy butlers and thwarted attempts at romance, The Gold Bat features frustrated schoolmasters, rival athletes and thwarted attempts at cricket. The central question is who stole the little gold bat, a souvenir given yearly to the captain of the champion cricket team. Its owner must find it before its absence gets him in hot water. It’s no Blandings Castle novel but that’s only because nothing is; The Gold Bat is still worth reading. (You can easily skim over the occasional cricket lingo.) It also shows that the term “slackers” existed in 1904 and meant the same thing it does now — the novel is dedicated to one.
The Girl in Blue is not under any circumstances to be read as one’s introduction to Wodehouse. It’s more of a curiosity, a keepsake, a perfectly serviceable novel with, again, typical later Wodehouse elements of butlers, millionaires, trickery, missing items, mistaken identities, etc., but it lacks the fizz that makes Wodehouse at his peak so great. Also due later this year is Ice in the Bedroom, a crime caper, or at least that’s one storyline, that reads like it should be voiced by Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn and that guy who played the psychiatrist in Miracle on 34th Street. There’s a couple of cat burglars, a romance novelist who’s spurning the genre, a swooning young man who needs money and buys suspect oil stocks to get it, a cranky uncle…in short, the usual. The bumbling burglars have left a stolen necklace inside a house that’s no longer theirs, and they’re desperate to get it back. Hijinks ensue and it all makes a nice lemonade of a story for a spring or summer day.