It seems somewhat apt that this book should arrive, and I should read it so promptly, during a time when the shenanigans going on in the Halls of Westminster become more and more outrageous and depressing. “The Westminster Alice“, a satire by the wonderful author Saki, is the latest instalment in my subscription with the lovely Renard Press, purveyors of books and pamphlets which are definitely useful as well as beautiful! Their Orwell pamphlets, which I covered here, certainly focus the mind on the madness of nations and governments; and “Westminster…” proves that nothing has changed in politics, and those in charge are not getting any wiser…

Saki, who I’ve read and love and written about before, was born Hector Hugh Munro; his life was a short one, as he died during the First World War. Although 43 at the time, and therefore too old to be called up, he volunteered; Saki was killed in action during the Battle of the Ancre, a tragic loss (like all the millions of that war). The work he left behind is a wonderful legacy, though, and I was really pleased that Renard were publishing this as I hadn’t yet read it.

“The Westminster Alice” is a series of vignettes which were originally published in the Westminster Gazette in 1902. They are, of course, parodies of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books and this lovely edition reproduces the wonderul illustrations which accompanied them by F. Carruthers Gould. I have to single these out for special mention, as they capture the spirit of Tenniel’s original drawings quite marvellously!

‘Well, of all the gubernatorial…’ said Alice to herself when she got outside. She did not quite know what it meant, but it was immense relief to be able to come out with a word of six syllables.

So Alice wanders amongst the denizens of Westminster at the start of the twentieth century with the Cheshire Cat as her guide (I love the Cheshire Cat – possibly my favourite Alice character!). They encounter an Ineptitude (the Conservative Prime Minister – hmmm, sounds familiar, that….); Humpty Dumpty (the Commander in Chief of the British Forces at the Boer War, who seems incapable of stringing a sentence together); The Duchess, who is actually the Archbishop of Canterbury, and who certainly shouldn’t be left in charge of a child; and the Caterpillar, who is the Speaker of the House of Commons, and seems unwilling to let anyone get a word in. These are just a few of the characters Alice meets, and even though the politicians and luminaries are not familiar by name nowadays, their behaviour certainly is! Usefully, this edition comes with helpful supporting notes explaining who is being parodied and giving a little background.

‘It seems to be a kind of poetry,’ said Alice doubtfully. ‘At least,’ she added, ‘some of the words rhyme and none of them appear to have any particular meaning.’

However, even if you don’t know who the people are, you know the types and Saki’s writing is as witty and cutting as ever. I found myself alternately laughing and groaning as I read; the shenanigans now and then *are* laughable (some of our current politicans are quite unbelievable) but the groans come when you realise that then, as now, the people we have in charge are quite unfit for purpose. The Liberal Party of the time are presented as ineffectual, constantly getting in each other’s way and falling over each other; the ruling party is parodied as The Hotel Cecil, as so many of the top jobs have gone to family members. Plus ça change, as they say… 😦

“The Westminster Alice” is such a great read; clever, funny, spot on with the satire, and beautifully illustrated, what’s not to love? Saki is always worth reading, and I love the way Renard have produced an edition which brings together the original text and illustrations plus the excellent notation as well as a little biog of Saki at the end. Good satire and good writing are timeless and Saki certainly produced both here – highly recommended, especially if you want to be focused on just how awful our politicians are and just how little has changed in the last century or so…