Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Saki

I had an email from Kate Johnson at Heffers in Cambridge today that warmed my heart a little. Someone who had listened to my readings last week had been asking about buying copy of Saki short stories and what was my edition called. I know I ought to be bothered that they were not actually asking about my book, but I'm not. I sold a few books on the day, so I'm happy. And I am more than happy to think I have helped someone discover a writer like Saki.

My edition is ancient. It has a truly dreadful illustration on the cover - I am sorry Paul Leith but it is. The present Penguin Modern Classics edition has this cover, which is certainly eye-catching, if a little over the top for Saki's subtle stories.

Saki was the pen-name of H H (Hector Hugh) Munroe. Anyone who has yet to read one of his stories is in for a treat. Like all collections of short stories the content is variable - not necessarily because the quality varies, but simply because some will be more to an individual's taste than another. I love the ones with children in them - Sredni Vashtar, The Open Window, The Storyteller. He has a range going from bone dry Wildean wit to genuine chills.

Women do not fare well in Saki's work however. His hatred of maiden aunts is clearly heartfelt and is a scar from his unhappy childhood - his mother was killed by a charging cow (or at least by the shock of the attack). It is the kind of tragi-comic incident that Saki could easily have made up. Animals are often malevolent in his stories. And he gets the intensity of children bang on: the boredom and the intensity of play and their imagined world. He gets their potential for cruelty too. He was very much in my mind when I wrote Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror.

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