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β€œI can remember a menu long after I’ve forgotten the hostess that accompanied it.” #saki #michaelwalmer

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The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki

I’ve written about the wonderfully witty Saki on the Ramblings before, back in my early days of blogging. His real name was Hector Hugh Munro, and he moved from foreign reporting to writing his witty tales as the first decade of the twentieth century came to an end. Saki’s first stories were about the escapades of one Reginald, a man about town with a witty tongue, and two volumes of his adventures made their appearance. In this, Saki’s third book, Clovis makes his entrance and has just as cynical an outlook on the world as his predecessor; in fact, it’s tempting of course to see them both as projections of their author!

It’s difficult, actually, to know quite how to write about Saki! These short stories mix the bizarre with the everyday in a way which is most beguiling. The humour can be refreshingly caustic which is ideal when you’re feeling a little disgruntled with the world and like to imagine taking your revenge on everyone! So, for example, we see Clovis assisting a gentleman having a mid-life crisis to have an un-rest cure with disastrous results; after he has wreaked havoc he simply rides off into the sunset, departing to prepare for dinner while leaving the house in a state of disarray:

That was the last they saw of Clovis; it was nearly seven o’clock, and his elderly relative liked him to dress for dinner. But, though he had left them forever, the lurking suggestion of his presence haunted the lower regions of the house during the long hours of the wakeful night, and every creak of the stairway, every rustle of wind through the shrubbery, was fraught with horrible meaning. At about seven next morning the gardener’s boy and the early postman finally convinced the watchers that the Twentieth Century was still unblotted.

He really is wicked!

That’s just one example, but each of the 28 stories here (some only a few pages long) is a real gem. How, for example, can you not love someone who titles a story “Filboid Sludge, the Story of a Mouse that Helped” (which is actually a story about a romance gone wrong!) “The Talking-Out of Tarrington” is also a hoot, where Clovis rescues an aunt from an unwanted encounter by spouting so much complete nonsense in the direction of the gentleman in question that he retreats, defeated. And “The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope” (Saki is just marvellous with names) opens with this wonderful exchange:

“Who and what is Mr. Brope?” demanded the aunt of Clovis suddenly.

Mrs. Riversedge, who had been snipping off the heads of defunct roses, and thinking of nothing in particular, sprang hurriedly to mental attention. She was one of those old-fashioned hostesses who consider that one ought to know something about one’s guests, and that the something ought to be to their credit.

“I believe he comes from Leighton Buzzard,” she observed by way of preliminary explanation.

“In these days of rapid and convenient travel,” said Clovis, who was dispersing a colony of green-fly with visitations of cigarette smoke, “to come from Leighton Buzzard does not necessarily denote any great strength of character. It might only mean mere restlessness. Now if he had left it under a cloud, or as a protest against the incurable and heartless frivolity of its inhabitants, that would tell us something about the man and his mission in life.”

I’ve seen Saki described as the person who invented trolling, and certainly Clovis seems a little darker in character than Reginald, who tended to float around being cutting for a lot of the time. Clovis, however, likes to subvert and tends to cause disruption wherever he goes. But the bottom line is that these stories are very, very witty and very, very funny (if you like that kind of humour – which I do!) and Clovis is a worthy successor to Reginald.

This edition of the “Chronicles” has been issues by Michael Walmer, who kindly provided a review copy; and it comes with an introduction by A.A. Milne (who was not averse to turning out a bit of wit himself!) Mike has also issued editions of “Reginald” and “Reginald in Russia”, all of which are great delights to read. I’m obviously a huge Saki fan; and if you like your humour more Wildean that slapstick, then Saki is definitely the author for you!

…in which the Birthday Fairy and Santa deliver – big time…

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Well, I did promise book pictures, didn’t I? And so here they come… I happen to be blessed (or cursed) with having a birthday quite close to Christmas so the gifts double up at this time of year, and despite everyone’s best intentions, there are always books!

First off, some modest arrivals for my birthday:

These lovelies came from OH and my BFF J. (amazingly, the Offspring managed to avoid books altogether for the birthday!)

The Peirene title is from J. and she very cleverly managed to pick the one I probably most want to read from their list! OH was also very clever in that he managed to find a BLCC I haven’t got or read, and also a book (the Godwin) which ties in with my current interest in things with a sort of link to the French Revolution (plus it has a *wonderful* David self-portrait on the cover). The crossword book? I love a crossword – I kid myself it keeps my brain alert…

As for Christmas… well, here are the bookish arrivals…!

First up, I always take part in the LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa and this year my books came courtesy of the lovely Simon at Stuck in a Book and these are they:

Simon knows that we share a love of a certain kind of writing and so picked some wonderful books I don’t have by A.A. Milne, Stephen Leacock and Saki – I’ve already been dipping and giggling… And it wouldn’t be a gift from Simon if there wasn’t a title in there by his beloved Ivy Compton-Burnett! I confess to owning several titles but not having plucked up the courage to read one yet – and fortunately I didn’t have this one, which is a beautiful edition, so maybe this should be where I start with Ivy… πŸ˜‰

Next up a few treats from J. She reminded me when we met up recently that it was actually 35 years since we first met (gulp!) and she knows me and my obsessions and my reading habits well. These were wonderful bookish choices – an Edmund Crispin classic crime novel (can’t go wrong with Gervase Fen), a Sacheverell Sitwell set in Russia, and a marvellous sounding book of pastiches which has already had me giggling – these humorous books are obviously putting the merry in Christmas this year!

The Offspring decided Christmas was the time for books for me (as well as some other lovely gifts) and the above was the result – “The Futurist Cookbook” was from Youngest, the Plath letters (squeeeee!) from Middle and “The Story of Art” plus the Mieville from Eldest. Very excited about these and wanting to read them all at once…. πŸ™‚

Finally, not to be left out, OH produced these treats! Yes, *another* BLCC I don’t have, a fascinating sounding book on Chekhov and a really lovely book on Surrealist art. The latter is particularly striking and has a plate of the most marvellous Magritte painting which I hadn’t seen before and I can’t stop looking at:

It’s called “The Empire of Lights” and it’s stunning and this doesn’t do it justice…

So, I have been very blessed this Christmas – thank you all my lovely gift-giving friends and family! And once I shake off this head cold I’ve also been blessed with, I really need to get reading… πŸ™‚

The Return of the Edwardian Wit

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Reginald in Russia by Saki

Saki, the pseudonym of H.H. Munro, is an author I first discovered back in 2012, when I read a little collection of his short pieces put out by Hesperus, and also his first volume of stories under the title “Reginald”. Now Michael Walmer has put out the second Saki selection called, titled “Reginald in Russia” in one of his lovely new editions and has kindly provided a copy for review.

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Although Saki’s regular character Reginald is referenced in the title, it’s in fact only the first story in the collection in which he features. And there’s no shortage of the usual wit which is on show while Reginald exchanges bon mots with Princess Olga. Other stories are equally witty, covering subjects as wide-ranging as strange encounters in woods, ghost stories and a short and funny play. There are some really wonderful twists; one of my favourites being in the story “The Reticence of Lady Anne”, about a domestic dispute which has a completely unexpected ending.

β€œI hate posterity – it’s so fond of having the last word.”

In some ways, Saki reminds me a little of Ronald Firbank (also published by Michael Walmer); the two writers share a love of funny phrases and witty exchanges, although of the two it has to be said that Saki is a lot more comprehensible – and often screamingly funny! It’s a tribute to his skill that he can take something really quite dark (Gabriel-Ernest) and turn into something entertaining but unsettling.

saki

Saki often covers unexpectedly deep subject matter but always in a witty, clever way. Alas, he died young, a victim of the horrors of the First World War which robbed the world of many talented artists. But at least we’ve been left with the laughter and levity of his works which still entertain today. If you love Wodehouse, Wilde and wit, “Reginald in Russia” is most definitely for you!

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I think my love of Hesperus may have confused some of my commenters, but I should remind readers that the book has been published by Michael Walmer, who has a lovely catalogue of books – his site is most definitely worth a visit!

The Complete Saki : Reginald

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Life is rather getting in the way of reading at the moment and I’m finding it impossible to get through decent sized books – just a little too tired and busy I suppose. So I decided this would be a good time to pick up some Saki, as his pieces are lovely little bite-sized chunks, easy to get through when you need to read something but haven’t got long. I hummed and hawed a bit and then decided I would read through the Complete Saki volume in order, so the first set of stories I tackled were the “Reginald” tales.

And what a hoot they are! Each piece is only a page or so long and often in the form of a little dialogue by Reginald. He seems to be a somewhat unconventional young Edwardian gentleman who delights in scandalizing people around him and blissfully going his own way. In one of the pieces Saki describes him thus:

Reginald, in his way, was a pioneer.

None of the rest of his family had anything approaching Titian hair or a sense of humour, and they used primroses as a table decoration.

It follows that they never understood Reginald, who came down late to breakfast, and nibbled toast, and said disrespectful things about the universe. The family ate porridge, and believed in everything, even the weather forecast.

Not only does this remarkably clever and funny piece of writing give you an instant picture of Reginald, it also demonstrates Saki’s wonderful way with words. He’s a master of the vignette, able to convey so much in such a short space of time and his pieces are a joy to read and very, very witty.

Although the tales might appear superficial, many of them are actually surprisingly pithy with a harder core of comment than is obvious at first. Many have pointed little observations of the human condition and the wit is remarkable. Reginald attends social events, pontificates on life and politics, scandalizes aunts and generally refuses, without confrontation, to be anyone else but himself.

The second volume, “Reginald in Russia” follows straight after this one and although the title character doesn’t feature in all the stories I’m still very much looking forward to them. Saki may be an acquired taste, as Noel Coward opines, and if so I’m very glad it’s one I’ve acquired!

Recent Reads: A Shot in the Dark by Saki

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As I mentioned a couple of days, I picked up some Saki following plenty of nice things being said about him online – and I do like a good short story! I thought it might be best to start with the small Hesperus volume, as the large Penguin one looked a bit daunting and I thought a shorted book would give me some idea of whether I’d like Saki or not (having jumped in with both feet by buying the complete works!)

I have to say that Hesperus books are just so beautifully produced – always with useful introductions and biographical information. This volume contains uncollected Saki in the form of mainly short stories plus a play and a letter home. I was hooked instantly – Saki writes wonderfully; very lovely but concise prose, readable, witty and extremely enjoyable. There’s a real art to short stories, to be able to get your character down in just a few words, and Saki does that so well. The stories are also very funny and often have a sting in the tale which is a real delight. I particularly loved “The Pond” which sent itself up beautifully. It’s obvious that Saki was a real talent and had an amazing imagination – some of the characters are Wodehousian, but there is a sharp edge to the storytelling which I enjoyed and made the stories stand out for me.

So am I ready to embark on the complete works? Well, yes – I think I will split it up a little so that in effect I read one volume at a time, as I’d hate to become jaded with them. It’s such a shame Saki didn’t survive the First World War – his commentary on the Roaring Twenties would have been something to hear!

A few new arrivals….

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Why is it that I tell myself over and over again that I don’t need anymore books and my tbr is reaching dangerous heights – then I get distracted online by a new author or book and bingo – off to Amazon or eBay or lately Awesome Books? While surfing the other day I somehow got led onto Saki and a quick search of reviews convinced me I really must read him. (And why is it that half the time lately when I search for a review of something, Stuck-in-a-Book is one of the first results?!)

Anyway – since all of Saki’s work (bar one volume) is available in a collected volume it wasn’t too hard to find a reasonably priced pre-loved copy. Also, the one volume mentioned is a Hesperus so that had to be tracked down too!

 

The third volume came about by nice people on LibraryThing mentioning reprints by Capuchin Classics. A quick search on their website threw up Hugh Walpole’s “The Secret City” – set in just pre-Revolutionary Russia, it sounded right up my street.

So these are latest acquisitions – now *what* do I read next?!?!

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