Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse (2015)

by Faith Sullivan

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse is a book for anyone who thinks, “I should have done more with my life.”

Nell Stillman never moves out of the four-room apartment above a butcher shop that she and her late husband rented as newlyweds. She never travels. She keeps the same job, elementary schoolteacher, her whole working life. When she inherits some money, she doesn’t spend it. But with books, rewarding work, friendship, motherhood, and love, this ordinary woman lives a full life. Nell loves to read, especially the works of the P. G. Wodehouse. Not only is reading Nell’s solace; it keeps her open-minded. Being unsophisticated is "no crime if you weren't narrow,” Nell muses, and she hopes that her reading kept her from that.

The novel is set in the small town of Harvester, in southern Minnesota, from 1900 to 1961. Nell’s husband dies young, leaving her with their 18-month-old son. Prominent townspeople help her find a job teaching in the elementary school, and they become close friends and introduce her to the man who will become her lover. Her son grows into a good student and star athlete, but defers college for military service in World War II, from which he returns shellshocked and unable to care for himself.

Good Night, Mr.Wodehouse won the Midwest Book Awards and the Langan Prize for Historical Fiction and was chosen a top 10 of 2015 by the Wall Street Journal. If there is a flaw in the novel, it’s that the amount of tragedy affecting Nell and her friends is nearly improbable.


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