Friday, 6 June 2008

Book of the Week - The Complete Stories of Saki

Hector Hugh Munro* was supposedly homosexual, when it was illegal to be gay (and regarded in some quarters as a mental illness - plus ca change!). It has also been rumoured that he was a misogynist (he never married), and that he had anti-semitic tendencies, supposedly evidenced in one or two of his stories. However, I'd prefer to remember him by his reported last words, uttered shortly before he was shot by a sniper at Beaumont-Hamel: "put that damned cigarette out"!

Anyway, his stories, which were satires on contemporary society, are always witty, I find, and there's always a twist, too. This is taken from The Remoulding of Groby Lington:

"Your parrot's dead." The boy made the latter announcement with the relish which his class finds in proclaiming a catastrophe.

"My parrot dead?" said Groby. "What caused its death?"

"The ipe," said the boy briefly.

"The ipe?" queried Groby. "Whatever's that?"

"The ipe what the Colonel brought down with him," came the rather alarming answer.

"Do you mean to say my brother is ill?" asked Groby. "Is it some thing infectious?"

"The Colonel's so well as ever he was," said the boy; and as no further explanation was forthcoming Groby had to possess himself in mystified patience till he reached home. His brother was waiting for him at the hall door.

"Have you heard about the parrot?" he asked at once. "'Pon my soul I'm awfully sorry. The moment he saw the monkey I'd brought down as a surprise for you he sqawked out, "Rats to you, sir!" and the blessed monkey made one spring at him, got him by the neck and whirled him round like a rattle. He was as dead as mutton by the time I'd got him out of the little beggar's paws. Always been such a friendly little beast, the monkey has, should never have thought he'd got it in him to see red like that. Can't tell you how sorry I feel about it, and now of course you'll hate the sight of the monkey."

"Not at all," said Groby sincerely. A few hours earlier the tragic end which had befallen his parrot would have presented itself to him as a calamity; now it arrived almost as a polite attention of the part of the Fates.

* It's said that the nom de plume, Saki, is taken from this story - saki being a species of south american monkey (the monkey is identified as coming from that part of the world, in the story).

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