Scott's Reviews > Mike at Wrykyn

Mike at Wrykyn by P.G. Wodehouse
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Nov 08, 2009

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bookshelves: 1900s, campus, edwardian, humor

Mike at Wrykyn (1909) begins with such promise. Little sister Marjory calls Mike, who has overslept himself, to the breakfast table: "I squeezed a sponge over him. He swallowed an awful lot, and then he woke up, and tried to catch me, so he's certain to be down soon." "You might have choked him!" mother interjected. "I did," said Marjory with satisfaction. "Jam, please, Phyllis, you pig." Ah yes, love at home ...

But Mike's not long for these cheerful domestic precincts. At the age of 14 he's bound for a great public school, Wrykyn, ostensibly to further his education, but in reality to prove himself worthy of a first eleven cap. Cricket is a tradition in the Jackson family, which has already produced three worthies of the wicket. Mike's dream is to play for the school by the end of his first year ... a long shot for a young man his age, but possible considering his talents.

Mike at Wrykyn is one of Wodehouse's earliest books, a school novel written for young men whose hearts had yet to discover the joys of love, learning, or Latin. What's left? Sport and more sport. The book can be read as a chrestomathy of cricketese: "As the ball left Burgess's hand he began instinctively to shape for a forward stroke. Then suddenly he realized that the thing was going to be a yorker, and banged his bat down in the block just as the ball arrived. An unpleasant sensation as of having been struck by a thunderbolt was succeeded by a feeling of relief that he had kept the ball out of his wicket. There are easier things in the world than stopping a fast yorker." Or, "... in the middle of the other bowler's over Bob hit a single; the batsmen crossed; and Burgess had his leg stump uprooted while trying a gigantic pullstroke." Ah, the memories ...

But the rest of the book is a gentle and sometimes humorous exploration of the themes of friendship, loyalty, and fitting in. There are a few eccentric characters, but they're given the sack or discredited, leaving us focused on mostly upright young paragons of British virtue, hard playing and obedient to the team captain. Wodehouse's subversive, farcical humor will have to wait for the following book, Enter Psmith .

Read Mike at Wrykyn if you adore Wodehouse, Psmith, or cricket. This isn't one of his zany, comic masterpieces; but it has its charms, especially dialogues that are harbingers of good things to come, and it's curious to watch Wodehouse's dexterous use the word "rot" or count how many times he slips in the phrase "silly ass."
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