Saki (H.H. Munro) is one of those authors I like in theory. I say this not because I don’t like him in practice, but simply because I’ve heard so much more about his work than I’ve ever actually read. A few of his stories wind up anthologized very frequently (“The Schartz-Metterklume Method,” “The Open Window,” “Esmé,” “The Unbearable Bassington”) and the rest are a complete blank to me. So when I found myself with six hours to kill at an airport recently, one of the many things I did to employ my time was to read Reginald, a collection of very short… they’re not exactly stories… vignettes, perhaps, about or narrated by the glorious fellow of the title.
I’m happy to say that I still like Saki. In theory. Reginald is witty and lightly entertaining, with the sort of stream-of-consciousness, early-twentieth-century banter that Wodehouse takes to its apotheosis in Bertie Wooster. A few lines actually made me laugh right out loud in the airport:
The other day (confided Reginald), when I was killing time in the bathroom and making bad resolutions for the New Year, it occurred to me that I would like to be a poet. The chief qualification, I understand, is that you must be born. Well, I hunted up my birth certificate, and found that I was all right on that score, and then I got to work on a Hymn to the New Year, which struck me as having possibilities.
Or this, and notice how every phrase has a little stinger:
There was a fellow I stayed with once in Warwickshire who farmed his own land, but was otherwise quite steady. Should never have suspected him of having a soul, yet not very long afterwards he eloped with a lion-tamer’s widow and set up as a golf-instructor somewhere on the Persian Gulf; dreadfully immoral, of course, because he was only an indifferent player, but still, it showed imagination. His wife was really to be pitied, because he had been the only person in the house who understood how to manage the cook’s temper, and now she has to put “D.V.” on her dinner invitations.
For the most part, though, it was hot-and-cold running Bertie. No plots, just little snapshots and one-liners (or rather, four- or five-liners; the pieces are more like trimmed shaggy-dog stories than anything else.) But they were still such a pleasure, like drinking champagne in a garden with pleasant people. Of course I’ll accept that invitation again, and again, and again.