reginaldSaki (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.

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7 Responses to Reginald

  1. Saki is another one of those prolific authors that I have whiled away possibly (more) valuable hours and days reading in the complete series, and I passed the affliction onto my younger brother (who named his whimsical dog Saki, after the author). I say you either take him as is or leave him alone, and no one is to be blamed for either choice (you are quite percipient in noticing the connection with Wodehouse, though I think Wodehouse is more jovial and devil-may-care whereas, as you point out also, Saki often has a “sting” in his tail).

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, Wodehouse is rarely so satirical. But I did very much enjoy these stories, and I’ll certainly read more.

  2. Lisa says:

    I bought an omnibus Saki, which even at the time I thought might be a mistake. I do like him in theory as well, but not in omnibus doses. Unfortunately though his books don’t turn up too often around here (which is why I was reluctant to pass on the omnibus).

    • Jenny says:

      I can see that an omnibus might easily be an overdose. A little at a time (like champagne!) seems the best policy, at least from what I read here.

  3. gaskella says:

    I got an omnibus of Saki too, but have just read half the first set of Reginald stories so far. Read too many at any one time and it becomes too much. I like the way you describe them as trimmed shaggy-dog stories – very apt. I started putting markers in for quotable lines – but there are just so many brilliant one-liners and paragraphs that I think you could read a page at random and find something biting to make you laugh.

  4. I am looking forward to reading more Saki, having so far only read The Unbearable Bassington, but I can easily see that he is an author to be taken in small doses. Still, I love his style and will no doubt overdose on his stories once I do start reading them, despite my best intentions.

  5. Alex says:

    I’m not sure I could take six hours of this but perhaps the odd one or two. I think I might keep a book of this sort in the kitchen to dip into while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil or and egg to cook.

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