The Scent of Water // by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1963//

Back in 2012 I read my first book by Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse.  I was completely blown away by the simple beauty of that story and resolved to read more of Goudge’s works.  Somehow, I’ve only just now gotten around to reading another of her books, and this one was just as beautiful, uplifting, and oddly challenging.

While The Little White Horse was a children’s book, The Scent of Water is regular adult fiction.  It is not a tale of high excitement, yet I found myself completely engrossed in this story every page of the way.  The main character is Mary Lindsay, middle-aged in 1950’s England.  She has just inherited a small cottage in a small village and although she has always been a city girl, she has decided to give country life a try.  Mary is vaguely discontented with herself, despite the fact that she has had a successful career and has maintained her independence.  Yet she feels that she is a ‘land-locked sea,’ and wonders why she has never ‘felt’ things the way that others seem to.  Her fiancee died in the war, and while she mourned him, she realized at the time that what she was truly mourning was the fact that she had never been able to love him the way that he loved her.

Now, as she comes to this cottage, she recognizes that she wishes to come to know two people, and both of them have already died: her fiancee, John; and her cousin, also named Mary Lindsay, who left her this cottage despite the fact that they only met once, when our Mary was a very young girl.

I’m not really sure that I can tell you what the ‘point’ of this story is.  Mary gradually gets to know the other people in the village.  It is a small community, and I found myself frequently thinking of a line from Velvet Pie that I have remembered all these years – ‘so many currents in such a small puddle.’  This is really a story of those currents, a recognition that even ‘unimportant’ people have lives, feelings, drama, joy, sorrow.  It is a book about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and yet so much more.

Goudge writes from a decidedly Christian perspective, but I think that it would be hard to be offended by her gentle, loving lessons that are revealed throughout.  Mary herself begins the story rather ambivalent towards God, and while she never has a moment of ‘conversion,’ as the story progresses, she begins to see the beauty and detail of life, and to believe that God Himself is weaving life together.

There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each.  They are these, ‘Lord have mercy.  Thee I adore.  Into Thy hands.’

I started with a library copy, but swiftly realized that this was a book I wanted to own, if for no other reason than so I could underline and mark various passages.  This was the first book that I have read in a long time that made me want to cry from the sheer beauty of it.

There seems to be a great trend in writing about people with mental illnesses, and I believe Goudge was far ahead of her time in her portrayal of Cousin Mary.  Her story, told through her journal entries, was heartbreaking and beautiful – hard, yet ultimately hopeful.  I loved that Cousin Mary never ‘solved’ her mental illness, but she did learn how to cope as best she can.

This is a story about love, and what that really means.  There are several examples of it throughout the story, and Goudge draws us into the conclusion that love is so much more than a mere feeling.  One of her characters writes in her journal,

I had not known before that love is obedience.  You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do.  And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings.  With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.

Yet despite the fact that I would say this is a story about love, it is not at all a love story.  Mary is not ‘rescued’ from her spinsterhood; she is still quite single at the end of the book, with no real reason to believe that that will change, and I loved that.  It was so refreshing to read a story about a woman in her fifties, contentedly and productively single, who stays that way!

There are several stories woven together in this narrative, but I believe my favorite was the beauty of Mary discovering just why her cousin had left her this home, and how her cousin had lived and suffered and learned.  There is this glorious revelation of the interconnectedness of life, a reminder of things and lessons and faith that we inherit from those who have come before us, and that we leave for those who come after.  Cousin Mary’s journal said,

Who will live after me in this house?  Who will sit in the little parlor reading by the fire?  And then she will put out her lamp and come up to this room and light the candles and kneel by the bed to pray.  I don’t know who she is but I loved her the moment I walked into this room, for that was a moment that was timeless.  I shall have my sorrows in this house, but I will pray for her that she may reap a harvest of joy.

I don’t feel as though I am expressing this book very well, and I also feel like I am making it far more religious than it was in the actual reading.  Just trust me on this: it is well worth the read.  The language is wonderful, the characters drawn so well, and the lessons produced so gently and thoughtfully that I have found myself thinking about this book a great deal, weeks after the reading of it.

It was also an interesting contrast, because I read this shortly after reading Dead End Closewhich I hated.  Yet, in its way, Dead End Close was a similar sort of story: a small community of individuals, delving into each of their lives, seeing how they are all connected, etc.  But where Dead End Close concludes that all people are base, evil, selfish, animalistic; Goudge concludes that there is hope for anyone and everyone who willing to reach out and realize that all of our lives connect; that there is no darkness that cannot be relieved.

The very title of her book comes from a passage in Job which she quotes in the front of the book:

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.  Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.

The literal scent of water plays an important role in the story, a symbol of hope and life.  Goudge’s characters are not perfect – they don’t start that way, and they don’t end that way.  Yet somehow she portrays them in such a loving, generous light that I came to love even the unlikable ones.

All in all, The Scent of Water is one of those unexpected treasures that has immediately leaped onto my list of all-time favorite books.  It is absolutely beautiful, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A Gentleman of Leisure // by P.G. Wodehouse

AKA The Intrusion of Jimmy

//published 1910//

As I am reading through all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, it is rather fun to watch his novels shape into what I would consider ‘traditional’ Wodehouse.  A Gentleman of Leisure has many of those components, with lively dialogue, engaging characters, love at first sight, overbearing fathers, and overwhelming aunts.

The story starts well, with a group of actors gathered together at their club after a successful night of a new play.  They are all happy to see their old friend Jimmy show up.  He inherited a bunch of money a while back, so he’s been off traveling the world and they never know when they will see him around again.  He chats it up with his friends, complimenting them on an excellent play, one which revolves around the story of a thief.  As their conversation continues, Jimmy supposes that breaking into a house would be no difficult feat, and, long story short, he and a friend make a bet as to whether or not he can successfully break into a house that very night.

As luck would have it, after Jimmy gets home and settles into his chair, what should happen but that a thief should attempt to rob him!  Rather than turn in the would-be criminal, Jimmy convinces him to show Jimmy how to break into a house.

The story continues as we follow the would-be love life of Jimmy, and there were plenty of laugh-aloud moments.  This plot is, by Wodehouse standards, fairly straight-forward, but one can already see some of his favorite tropes coming into play.

One interesting thing is that I originally started reading this on my Kindle – all of Wodehouse’s earliest works are available as free Kindle books because they are out of copyright.  I found I was enjoying this one enough that I decided to go ahead and order a hard copy from eBay.  While the Kindle edition was a straight copy of the original 1910 print, my hard copy is a later edition that was published in the 1960’s.  I had initially read maybe a third of the story on my Kindle, and I was intrigued to find that there were several differences in the newer copy.  The biggest one was that in the original book Jimmy had just arrived in America via the Lusitania, but in the later edition the name of the ship has been changed to the Mauretania, presumably due to the tragic sinking of the former, which would have occurred several years after the book was first printed.  The newer book also included some random background story on one of the characters (which seemed weirdly unnecessary as it never came into play later in the story), and probably other changes that I don’t remember/didn’t notice.  It was just a funny thing to remember how much many of his books changed over the years as Wodehouse himself edited them before they were reprinted.

Anyway, all in all A Gentleman of Leisure wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse ever, but was still a fun and lively little read, and one that I’m glad to add to my ever-growing collection.

March Minireviews – Part 2

I realize that we are now several days into April, but I am trying to wrap up the backlog of March reads.  It always makes me sad when I have to reduce the pile this way, but life is just too busy to keep up on the blog, I’m afraid!

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1910//

I actually love the Psmith books, although many people find him rather obnoxious (he is).  This book had a whole new level of interesting since I read Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  In those books, we discover the foundation of the friendship that is at the heart of Psmith in the City, so that added much more depth to the overall story.  In many ways, Mike is actually the central character, with Psmith playing a bold supporting role.  Mike is such a steady, stolid character, which contrasts all the better with the rather pompous Psmith.  I also love how whenever Wodehouse has Mike refer to Psmith in conversation, Mike always says “Smith.”  Wodehouse’s subtle decisions to keep or drop the P are cleverly done.

Another favorite thing of mine is discovering connections between different books and events, so it was great fun to find a reference to Three Men in a Boatwhich I read last fall.  All in all, Psmith in the City is a delightful 4/5 (on the Wodehouse scale, where a 1/5 is the same as a 4/5 for normal books) and definitely recommended – although you’ll enjoy it even more if you read the Mike books first.

From Italy With Love by Jules Wake

//published 2015//

This books is actually a DNF, so I’m not sure why I’m bothering to mention it, other than to see if someone else has actually finished it and thinks that I should totally keep reading because it gets better later on.

I really liked the premise, where an eccentric uncle leaves his niece a rare antique car, but in order to inherit it she has to drive across Italy, following a specific route which he has laid out for her.  As part of an inheritance for this other guy, the uncle says that the guy has to go, too.  I always kind of enjoy crazy old meddling old people who set up the young’uns, especially from beyond the grave, so I was all for it.  However, so much of this book just didn’t make any kind of sense.  The uncle promised the dude, Cam, that he could have this special car, so Cam has already told his brother that they can use this car for some fancy car show where they’re going to make tons of money except they had to spend tons of money to get ready for it.  Except how did Cam know that the uncle was going to die???  (Maybe he actually knocked him off and the book turns into a mystery later?!)  So Cam is obnoxious the whole time, which also makes no sense because what he is actually going to inherit from this drive across Italy is the first chance to buy the car from the niece (Laurie).  So wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be buttering her up and trying to get on her good side?

Meanwhile, Laurie is actually engaged to this other guy, and it’s obvious from literally the first page that this guy is a total tool, and as the first couple of chapters progress, it’s painfully obvious that the dude is trying to get in on all the cash he thinks Laurie is going to inherit, but Laurie seems basically oblivious to the whole thing, and it really bothered me that she went off on this trip (and is presumably going to fall in love with) some other guy while still being engaged to the first guy, even if the first guy is a jerk.  I found it 100% impossible to believe that Laurie would inherit this car and not do any kind of research on it, even something as basic as finding out how much it’s worth.  I mean, seriously?

And honestly, I could have overlooked a lot of this if the story had been remotely interesting, but it wasn’t!  To top everything off, it was boring me out of my mind.  Plus, while as of around 30% through the book Wake hadn’t dragged me through any sexy times, she still kept hinting around at stuff, so I had to keep listening to Laurie get “flushed” and “flustered” a whole lot, and, even worse, be repeatedly exposed to the word “nipples.”  Please.  “Nipples” is not a word that engenders romance, so I don’t want to hear about them, or hear what some guy thinks about them, or even to really think about them within the context of a romantic encounter.  Ugh.

So yeah, a rambling DNF on this book, but at least it’s one off the list!

Nettle King by Katherine Harbour

//published 2016//

This is the third and final book in the Night & Nothing series.  Thorn Jack was engaging, Briar Queen was engrossing, and Nettle King was a solid finish.  Part of the problem was that there was just too much of a gap for me between Queen and King, so I had trouble getting into the groove of this story.  But overall – I really liked this trilogy, and definitely see myself reading it again.  In many ways it reminded me of the Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan.  These weren’t as funny as those, but it had a similar world-building in the sense that it all took place in a small, isolated community.

I also found myself comparing it a lot to The Fourth Wishwhich I had just finished.  In both stories, girls find themselves in love with guys who, due to magic, are basically eternal beings who have been around for centuries.  But where Wish felt ridiculous and contrived, I 100% shipped Jack and Finn.  Both characters are constantly seeking to put the other person’s safety and needs above their own.  Plus, they are a bit older (in college), and had a strong support system of other characters around them.  There was so much more depth to relationship between Jack and Finn than there was between Margo and Oliver.  I felt like Jack and Finn would be friends and lovers forever, but that Oliver and Margo would get completely bored of each other within months.

Anyway, the overall conclusion to the Night & Nothing series was quite satisfying.  I definitely want to read these books again within a tighter time frame, because I felt like I lost a lot of the intrigue by waiting so long between the second and third books.  A solid 4/5 for Nettle King and for the series as a whole.  Recommended.

‘Pride & Prejudice’ Variations – Minireviews

I have confessed before that when my life gets  busy and stressed, my reading gets suuuuper fluffy, and, in most cases, takes on the form of terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I hate to admit it, but I find them endlessly entertaining, mostly because I love the concept of one thing being different, and suddenly the whole story changes.  While many of them are, admittedly, dreadful, some are still enjoyable.  I’m embarrassed to tell you all how many I’ve read lately, but here are a few, just as a sample…

The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams

//published 2013//

This one was pretty low key, but still pleasant.  In this story, Darcy and Elizabeth meet at Netherfield per canon, but, after the assembly where Elizabeth becomes quite prejudiced against Darcy, Georgiana comes from London to stay at Netherfield as well, and she and Elizabeth become friends.  A few months later, when Darcy is away visiting a relative (and Jane is staying in London with the Gardiners), Georgiana invites Elizabeth to come and stay with her.  However, Darcy returns home early, so he and Elizabeth have an opportunity to know each other better.

Things I liked:  This was just a nice variation.  There weren’t all these crazy evil people trying to drive Darcy and Elizabeth apart, there weren’t loads of steamy sex scenes, and there was no violence or rape.  In short, it was a variation that I don’t think would have made Jane Austen twitch too much.  I liked the slowly developing friendship between Darcy and Elizabeth, and I liked how not all of Darcy’s relatives immediately disliked Elizabeth.  It was also nice to have Georgiana be nice, because some variations like to turn her into a selfish shrew.

Things I didn’t like:  There was this kind of random love triangle that was never a really serious love triangle, and I don’t even understand why authors bother with it in these stories because DUH the whole point is Darcy and Elizabeth end up together, so it doesn’t really seem fair to the other fellow, does it??  Also, this book had a ridiculously long epilogue that was so involved it felt like Adams should have just written a sequel.  Instead, we just got like a couple of paragraphs throwing everyone’s lives into disarray.

Conclusion:  3/5 for a pleasant story.  Nice for relaxing but not terribly thrilling.

Fate & Consequences by Linda Wells

//published 2009//

In this version, Darcy arrives at Ramsgate too late to stop Georgiana.  He pursues her (and Wickham, obviously), and manages to catch up with them at an inn in a small town called Meryton.  While Georgiana hasn’t actually stayed a night with Wickham, she is still ruined when word gets out of her attempted elopement.  While in Meryton, Darcy and his sister happened to run into Elizabeth, and a series of events leads to Elizabeth and Georgiana beginning a correspondence.  Darcy and Elizabeth also begin a clandestine correspondence, and fall in love through their letters.  Because Georgiana is ruined when Darcy and Elizabeth meet, Darcy has already been humbled in many ways, and is much more open to falling in love with Elizabeth in consequence.

Things I liked:  Again, I like stories where people are friends and then fall in love, and this version did that well.  Elizabeth and Darcy are just so good for each other in this story, always supporting and helping each other through difficult times.  There was a good secondary story about Elizabeth having an aunt that she never knew about because her aunt was also ruined as a young woman and sent off to Scotland in disgrace.  I also liked the way that Mr. Bennet and his wife began to work through their relationship and ended as a stronger couple in the end.

Things I didn’t like:  Mostly the ridiculous drama, like seriously Wickham is a bit over-the-top, and Lady Catherine definitely is.  Also, one of Elizabeth’s letters go missing and even though she and Darcy hardly know each other at this point, Darcy goes into this deep, dark depression and refuses to eat or sleep for days and it all just seemed a *tad* melodramatic for the situation.  Also, definitely too much sex.  Just please.  No.

Conclusion:  Still, 3/5 because there were a lot of good characterizations, and when Wells wasn’t going crazy with emotional turmoil, the story moved along well.

1932 by Karen M. Cox

//published 2010//

I really love versions where the actual setting is different.  In some ways, I think that illustrates how universal this love story really has become.  Here, Cox decided to set the story during the Great Depression.  Elizabeth’s family has lost most of their money and has to move to the small town where her mother grew up.  The Darcys of course were much better planners and have suffered minimal financial distress, and Darcy is one of the largest landowners around.

Things I liked:  I loved the concept and the setting, and I liked that Darcy and Elizabeth got married towards the middle of the story (in this version, it would be sort of the equivalent of Elizabeth accepting Darcy during the Hunsford proposal), and then grew towards love from there.  I also liked that Georgiana was likable and kind.

Things I didn’t like:  Overall, this story just felt rushed, like the author had this great idea and felt like she had to publish it before someone else beat her to the punch.  Consequently, the story felt choppy in bits.  The love story between Georgiana and the sheriff could have been much more interesting.  Darcy’s refusal to tell Elizabeth the truth of Georgiana’s past, even after Darcy and Elizabeth married, felt very unnatural, so I didn’t really buy their entire disagreement which was central the story – it seemed like Darcy would have told Elizabeth at least the basic gist.  Later, Darcy and Elizabeth have an argument and it felt like that dragged way too long – Elizabeth leaves her husband and returns home for weeks?!  

Conclusion:  3/5.  I wanted to like this story more than I did.  The author has written at least one more version with a unique setting, so I’ll probably give that one a try as well.

The Wicked Marquis // by Marnie Ellingson

Thrift stores are rather awesome, and not just because you can get gently used clothes and furniture on the cheap.  They also tend to have a corner devoted to various types of media, with books, VHS tapes, battered DVDs, and scratched CDs all piled together.  I love rummaging through thrift store books, because sometimes, under the Readers’ Digest condensed versions and scads of romance paperbacks with scantily clad heroes and heroines in fond embrace – I find a little treasure.  And one of those, purchased for a quarter a few years ago, is The Wicked Marquis.

//published 1982//

This isn’t a book of high adventure or intensity, but it’s a fabulous go-to for a happy, relaxing, funny little story.  This definitely has echoes of Georgette Heyer, with a strong-minded but lovable heroine who is determined to rescue her cousin from a marriage of convenience (but no love), and in doing so, embroils herself with the Wicked Marquis himself.  It’s one of those wonderful little stories where there isn’t really a villain, where misunderstandings are minimal, and where you know that everything will come together in the end for a happy ending.

Esme is a wonderful protagonist.  She is intelligent, interesting, and contented with her lot in life.  She isn’t afraid to stand up for the people she loves, but never comes across as obnoxious or ridiculous.  And despite the fact that she is adventurous and not particularly fussed about all of the societal regulations, she’s still feminine and even girly at times, enjoying a good chat about clothes and handsome young men.

All in all, I definitely recommend The Wicked Marquis, with a strong 4/5 rating.  And despite the fact that I’ve owned this book for several years and have read it several times, this was the first time that I bothered to find out if Ellingson wrote anything else.  I did find one of her books on eBay secondhand, and hope to read Unwilling Bride soon, although not in public, as the cover is absolutely ridiculous.

I mean seriously?!

February Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

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//published 2007//

So growing up, Konigsburg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books.  As an adult, I discovered her book The View from Saturday and loved that one, too – a lot (I even read and reviewed it again!).  But for me, The Mysterious Edge just didn’t work the way her other two books did.  The plot is disjointed and strange, the characters inconsistent and unrealistic, and the entire premise centers around a lot of coincidences.

I really wanted to like this book – two kids becoming friends while helping an elderly lady clean out her house that’s full of interesting stuff – doesn’t that sound like fun??  But the old lady, Mrs. Zender, is really weird, and so are both of the boys – and not in the realistic, quirky way of some of Konigsburg’s characters in Saturday – just weird, weird: the kind of weird that leaves you scratching your head in puzzlement.

A lot of the story centers around a picture that one of the boys finds, a drawing of a naked woman.  Now we’re informed that this is art, so this is a “nude” which is different from just someone being naked.  But…  it still felt really inappropriate for the age of the characters and the intended readers, and, once again, was just kind of weird.  Like why does the picture have to be of a naked person??

There are almost some good discussions about how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, about people who are rich and people who aren’t, about whether or not a government should be able to decide what is or isn’t art.  But none of those conversations really go anywhere, so the whole book feels awkward and stunted.

All in all, 1/5 for a book that I wanted to like but just couldn’t.  I’m still planning to read some more of Konigsburg’s books because I have enjoyed a couple of them so very much, but I don’t see myself ever revisiting this one.

American Gardening Series: Container Gardening by Suzanne Frutig Bales

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//published 1993//

This is one of those random books that I picked up for a quarter at a library book sale at some point.  It’s not a terribly thick book, but it does have a lot of photographs and plenty of good information about choosing plants for container gardens and then keeping them alive after you’ve planted them!  Bales has a lot of enthusiasm for container gardening as it is very flexible and can be done in almost any amount of space.

I’ve been working through several gardening books this month, and I always glean some new tips and ideas.  This one is well worth the shelf space as a great reference book.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on planning container gardens – I think that a lot of times people go into container gardening assuming that you just sort of jam some plants in and it will look great, but this book spends some time talking about not just the color of the plants you are planting, but texture, size, and growing requirements.  Definitely recommended if this is a topic you’re interested in learning more about.

The Princess by Lori Wick

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//published 1999//

This is a (multiple time) reread for me, and I have a more detailed review here.  Sometimes I just need some happy fluff, and this book always fits the bill.  It involves my favorite trope (marriage than love), and just is a happy, gentle little tale that I have read many times and yet always find enjoyable.  I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump here at the end of February, what with starting my new job and being super tired all the time, so The Princess helped get me through!

Mike at Wrykyn // Mike and Psmith // by P.G. Wodehouse

These books have also been published together as Mike, but I read them in two separate volumes.

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//published 1909//

Wrykyn, one of Wodehouse’s fictional schools, has appeared in other stories, so it was a somewhat familiar setting for Mike at Wrykyn.  Unlike many of Wodehouse’s other school stories, this one has a fairly linear plot, and while cricket is an important aspect of the story, it isn’t the story.

Mike is the youngest son (although not the youngest child) of a large and rollicking family.  The story opens in the Jackson home, at breakfast, where Mr. Jackson announces that Mike, aged 15, will be heading off to Wrykyn this term.  Mike is quite amenable to idea, as all of his older brothers have gone there (in fact, the next son, Bob, is still there), and he knows that he should be able to be involved in cricket.  The three brothers older than Bob (Joe, Reggie, and Frank, of whom only Joe really plays a part in the story) all play cricket at a somewhat professional level, and while no one wants Mike to get a big head, the general consensus is that he may be the best of the lot.

Wodehouse does a really wonderful job of telling the story of Mike’s first term at Wrykyn.  While cricket is a crucial part of the story, it’s really much more about Mike’s character, and it was quite nice to see him learn to become a lot less self-centered.  The story is in no way preachy, though, as it is full of Wodehouse humor and really entertaining characters.

Mike at Wrykyn is an easy 3/5, with Mike himself a sturdy and interesting protagonist.

Even though Wrykyn was later combined with Mike and Psmith to make one story, I definitely think they make more sense as two volumes.  While both stories center around Mike, they take place at different schools and are set a couple of years apart.

1953-mike-and-psmith-second-story-from-the-original-mike

//published 1909//

In this tale, we meet Rupert Psmith for the first time.  While I have heard some people (namely my mother) claim that Psmith at times irritates them, he is actually one of my favorite Wodehouse characters.  (Although I will admit that if he was someone I had to deal with regularly in real life, I would probably throttle him.)

At the beginning of the story, Mike’s father has decided to remove Mike from Wrykyn for Mike’s last term of school.  Mike has been warned about his poor grades before, and was told that this would be the result, and now, with the arrival of Mike’s most recent report, the threat is being made good.  Instead, Mike is shipped to a much smaller school, Sedleigh.  Mike is in a very bad mood over this decision, as he loves Wrykyn and was going to be the captain of the school’s cricket team this term.  Thus, he enters Sedleigh with a chip on his shoulder against the school.

The first fellow-student he meets is also a new arrival.

“I’m the latest import.” [said the new student] “Sit down on yonder settee, and I will tell you the painful story of my life.  By the way, before I start, there’s just one thing.  If you ever have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the beginning of my name? P-s-m-i-t-h.  See?  There are too many Smiths, and I don’t care for Smythe.  My father’s content to worry along in the old-fashioned way, but I’ve decided to strike out a fresh line.  I shall found a new dynasty.  The resolve came to me unexpectedly this morning.  I jotted it down on the back of an envelope.  In conversation you may address me as Rupert (though I hope you won’t) or simply Smith, the not being sounded.  Compare the name Zbysco, in which the is given a similar miss-in-balk.”

To me, one of the best parts of this story is when Wodehouse does or does not insert the P at the beginning of Psmith.  For instance, whenever Psmith is being addressed by one of the teachers – “Smith.”  Sometimes the P appears from a fellow student and sometimes not.  It’s a funny and subtle way of indicating just what the situation at hand entails.

Psmith and Mike form a bond and, as one of the first arrivals at the school, secure a very nice study for themselves, even though it was unofficially claimed by a previous student the previous term.  Thus, the first few chapters involve a great deal of mild warfare as Mike and Psmith settle into their new home.

“I am with you, Comrade Jackson.  You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you?  I’ve just become a socialist.  It’s a great scheme.  You ought to be one.  You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Mike and Psmith.  Wodehouse does a great job of creating two characters who are dissimilar and yet who fit together as friends very well.  Because I’ve read some of the later Psmith books, I know that they remain friends as they grow into adulthood, and I’m intrigued to read those book again now that I’ve finally gotten this early background of the pair.

Another solid 3/5 for this book, and I definitely recommend both Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  While not as full-developed as Wodehouse’s later novels, these are short, snappy, full of humor, and all-around great fun.