Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The World of Saki

No, this is not about a Japanese rice-based alcoholic beverage. That's "sake." This is Saki, the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), a journalist, historian, and writer of short stories. It's the short stories for which he is famous. I remember that we studied him when I was in high school. I had not read any of his works since until I needed an audiobook for weekend gardening. The World of Saki gave me nearly three hours of pleasure.

In the introduction to the short story collection, the announcer states that Saki was "witty." "Witty" is an understatement. I was laughing hard at times at the wicked humor pointed at shallow, vain Edwardian aristocrats. Lady Bastable, Clovis, Mrs. Packletide, and the boy Conradin are all characters with no conscience, ready to lie, cheat, and steal to satisfy their whims. I am not so sure if I find them so funny because they are impossibly absurd or whether they are almost real. Clovis shows up in many stories. His ability to rattle on and slyly insult anyone foolish enough to engage him in conversation is highly entertaining.

Strange things happen in Saki stories, most of which last ten minutes or less. Hyenas escape from menageries, cats learn to speak, and pigs trap unwanted guests in paddocks. In almost all of the stories, people act badly. Readers may decide that Saki had a very poor opinion of humanity. Then there is the story "Easter Egg," in which a cowardly man does something immensely brave. Perhaps even Saki had a glimmer of hope for a better world. He died on a battlefield in France in 1916 at age 45.

Listening to Alexander Spencer read these stories is a pleasure that I recommend.

Saki. World of Saki. Recorded Books ; Made available electronically by NetLibrary, 2005.

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