Rating: (4/5) (based on 22/27 stories)
(US) - (Canada)
collected from 1904-1923
June 18, 2013, New York Review Book Classics, 176 pgs
"The whimsical, macabre tales of British writer H. H. Munro—better known as Saki—skewer the banality and hypocrisy of polite English society between the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of World War I. Saki’s heroes are enfants terribles who marshal their considerable wit and imagination against the cruelty and fatuousness of a decorous and doomed world.
Here, Saki’s brilliantly polished dark gems are paired with illustrations by the peerless Edward Gorey, available for the first time in an English-language edition. The fragile elegance and creeping menace of Gorey’s pen-and-ink drawings perfectly complements Saki’s population of delicate ladies, mischief-making charges, spectral guests, sardonic house pets, flustered authority figures, and delightfully preposterous impostors."
Received an egalley from the publisher through NetGalley.
My review copy is missing the first five stories. I don't usually review incomplete review copies but I didn't know this at the time!
1. The Strategist - Rollo is invited to a party where he will be one of the boys with his mate Jack and the two Wrotsley boys, hoping the cousin won't tag along. Which would make them 2 against 3. There will be girls as well. As he arrives he hears Jack's sister say she's sorry her brother couldn't make it and the Wrotsley cousin is being introduced. Now it's 1 against 3. What follows is a very strange party where the boys retire to the library to think of a word the girls must guess and while they are in the library Rollo is beaten. He spends his time at the party thinking of ways to avoid going into the library. Weird ... to say the least. (2/5)
2. Tobermory - A guest at a dinner party, where the guests have stayed several days, announces that his life's work has finally come to fruition; that of teaching animals human speech. He has taught the household cat, Tobermory, to speak fluent English. The cat, upon presentation begins to dazzle the assembled by having a rather stuck-up attitude and is full of intimate details about all of the present. Little did one realise just how much access a cat has to one's private life. Upon embarrassing and telling dirty little secrets about all gathered the cat leaves and the party plans the murder of the now not-so-dear family pet. Very tongue in cheek and funny. (5/5)
3. Mrs. Packletide's Tiger - This one is short compared to the first two and has Mrs. Packletide setting up a tiger hunt in India because she is jealous of the attention another local woman is getting and bagging a tiger should outdo her recent feat. She gets her tiger but not exactly as she'd planned and shortshrifted in the end. Another tongue in cheek farce. A little giggle at the end. (4/5)
4. The Stampeding of Lady Bastable - The last two stories have contained basically one sentence to make us aware that someone named "Clovis" was present in the room or at the events. This has proved puzzling to me, however this story is about Clovis! He is a mischievous 17-year old who in this story has his mother tries to pack off with Lady Bastable while she goes away for six days. Clovis is not happy with this arrangement so he plays a prank on Lady B. based on her greatest fear. Very short but one can envision the farce in action. Humorous! (4/5)
5. The Unrest-Cure - A great story to name the collection with as it's a fine example of Saki's humorous farce. This was hilarious if somewhat politically incorrect to some tastes. Clovis overhears a minister talking on a train about being in a rut while his companion suggests he needs to get busy with an "un" rest cure. Clovis having learnt much about the minister from this eavesdropping plays a prank on the man by sending a telegram then arriving at his home. He's concocted a story where the Bishop will be coming to stay the night, sending the household in an uproar. The Bishop then mysteriously arrives, locks himself in the library and through Clovis, the Bishop's supposed secretary, imparts the news that he has decided to slaughter the Jews, of which this town happens to have 26. Absolute hysterics ensue as the minister and his wife think the Bishop mad and that bloodshed is imminent in their home. (5/5)
6. Sredni Vashtar - Clovis is not in this story. This story is a dark one compared to the others most certainly. Here we have Conradin a sickly young orphan being looked after by an elderly, to him anyway, aunt. The aunt is miserly, cross and not fond of children, making Conradin's life miserable. He has made a place for himself at the bottom of the grounds in a shed where he has two pets; one he loves the most of anything in the world, a Houdan hen, the other a creature that frightens him but that also awes him, a polecat ferret whom he's named Sredni Vashtar, keeps locked up in a cage in a wardrobe and treats as a sort of god in his little world. When the Woman decides he spends too much time in the shed and gets rid of the hen, Conradin internalizes his emotions and seeks an end to his misery with the Woman. A dark, tense story with the child an equal villain to the Woman. Kept me quite intrigued as I guessed but wasn't sure if it would end the way I thought it might. A first look at Saki's darker side rather than black humour of the previous stories. (5/5)
7. Adrian: A Chapter in Acclimatization - A farce. Lucas meets up with his Aunt Susan who inquires whom the lovely lad he was with the other day is. Lucas arranges for his aunt to meet Adrian upon which she then takes it on herself to look after him and "show him a bit of the world". Lucas advises her not to but she will do as she wants. From this point on Lucas receives letters from Clovis who happens to be in the party, now in Switzerland, and the dreadful shenanigans that Adrian has been up to until finally the aunt can't stand it any more. Very funny. After reading the story though I started to think that based on what we know about Clovis, perhaps we are to believe that Clovis has framed Adrian. Pondering this ... (4/5)
8. The Quest - Baby Momesby is lost. Missing that is, and his mother is frantic in searching for him. She happens upon Clovis in the garden who presents the theory that an escaped circus animal has eaten the poor tot. Later a visiting neighbour, a Christian Scientist, says the child has only disappeared until they have enough faith that he has not disappeared. The three discuss the matter in circles with the mother becoming more anxious. Saki's usual farcical humour continues until not one but two toddlers have been secured from danger. Cute, but not as fun as some of the others so far (3/5)
9. The Peace Offering - The Baroness asks Clovis's help in putting on an entertainment to help the county get over bitter feelings surrounding an upcoming election. Clovis suggests a play and in the end decides upon the Greek Tragedy "The Return of Agamemnon". Most of the story then falls into a study of witticisms as the two try to outdo each other as they both want centre stage. Then on opening night, with a magnificent turn out from the entire country, the Baroness makes a political mistake. A study of irony. (3/5)
10. The Talking-Out of Tarrington - A man named Tarrington walks towards Clovis and his aunt. The aunt wants nothing to do with him, recognizing him and knowing he will try to invite himself to a luncheon she is holding in the near future. Clovis gives her leave that he will get rid of said interloper. So the aunt skedaddles away advising Clovis pretend he doesn't know the man. What then transpires is a farcical conversation between the two, in which the man eventual wanders off thinking it best not to want to attend any luncheon that Clovis would be attending and Clovis thinking what a good parliamentarian he would make. LOL. Witty. (3/5)
11. The Hounds of Fate - A down on his luck man who has never amounted to anything because of his own inclinations is wandering in the woods in the rain and finds refuge in a cottage. The people there mistake him for their master Tom who left 4 yeas ago. The reluctantly decides the hounds of fate have lead him here and he takes on the persona, even after he learns that none of his neighbours or friends has any remaining like for the recently returned master. His choices once again prove to lead him where the hounds of fate will. A predictable but straightforward tragedy. (3/5)
12. The Boar-Pig - A woman and her daughter have not been invited to the lawn party of the season so they sneak in through the back way unobserved. However, they are noticed by 13yo Matilda who decides to teach them a lesson by letting loose the boar who has been boarded up for the event. The two women come across it in fear and thus commences a conversation of wits between the women and conniving Matilda as to whether she will help them get free of the boar. Cute ending (3/5)
Am wondering at this point whether the devilish, conniving, rather heartless youths portrayed in these stories is a reflection of Saki's own opinion on children or his literary reflection on his society's (Edwardian) general attitude toward children.
13. The Open Window - Another story of a maliciously mischievous child. This time a young lady tells an ailing young man a tale which frightens the daylights out of him. Very cleverly told with darkly humorous ending. One of my favourites so far. (5/5)
14. The Cobweb - I don't get the significance of the title for this one. A young couple moves into the family heritage farm. The wife feels uncomfortable as she has plans to spruce it up an modernize the running of it but the octogenarian ward of the kitchen who came with the house is not about to give up her lifetime rule. The old lady starts predicting death and the wife can't help but be relieved when her demise will finally come; only it doesn't quite work out that way. A gloomy, morbid tale well told. (4/5)
15. Fur - This time around we have two young ladies plotting to get a good birthday present out of a rich relative but when the birthday girl upsets her friend, the tables are turned and the plot turns upon herself. A variation on the theme here and we just have an amusing story rather than any malice, as the birthday girl did act in a way as to deserve the mutiny from her friend. (4/5)
16. The Guests - Two ladies in a small village are talking. The one who has always lived there complains how nothing happens. The other who has lived in places where things happen says she likes the quiet. Then she relates one such story where, presumably in India, a Bishop, whom she was scarcely on speaking terms with, came to visit, they had a flood, and an extra guest. A farcical romp. The usual. (3/5)
17. The Penance - Back to the deviltry children are capable of only this time they provoke the guilty conscience of a man who has done them wrong and they exact penance from him with their menace. Engaging. I've become fond of these rather droll but macabre endings. (4/5)
18. Bertie's Christmas Eve - 13yo Bertie's parents will be packing him off to Rhodesia soon. For now it's Christmas Eve and a house party is underway. One of the guests suggests that in Russia they believe that at the midnight hour they believe the barnyard animals can talk so they troop out to they stone barn where they have a few cows and sheep. Bertie doesn't bother to go but as the hour strikes the adults hear the door closing and the key locking. Bertie has locked them in for the night. The usual sort of farce but I didn't really find this one funny. (3/5)
19. Quail Seed - Very different from the others.. This is a light-hearted comedy of a local-shop owner who is lamenting the decline of business now that customers prefer shopping at "larger concerns". Then he has a brain storm on how he can attract more business with an idea that will bring in both men and women. Thus, he pulls off a stunt that tricks the whole village. I guessed the ending but this was delightfully fun and great to see another side of Saki's writing. (5/5)
20. Mark - An author is visited by an unrelenting encyclopedia salesman and he uses reverse psychology to get the intruder to leave. Amusing but not up to par with some others. (3/5)
21. Fate - Clovis is back but as a bystander, not a major player. He's older now, he and a friend, 24 yo, are guests at a house party. The friend is poor and makes his money by placing small but sure bets on the weekends. This time he's decided to risk it all and bets more than he has on a billiards game. Needless to say the game is not turning out in his favour and he ends up having to take fate into his own hands. Another ok farce. (3/5)
22. The Seven Cream Jugs - The Pigeoncoates hear that young Wilfrid (the snatcher) has inherited vast estates and sums from that side of the family. Having not seen him since a wee lad, now their silver wedding anniversary, they receive note that William is coming to visit. How will they hide all the silver? Turns out the eldest son on that side is always called Wilfrid and there are a host of them. A case of mistaken identity causes a backfire that the Pigeoncoates reputation must suffer furthermore. Cute with unexpected ending. (4/5)