Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki ****

I read the introduction by A.A. Milne to this short story collection just now, and I shouldn't have. Milne is such a great writer, it's hard for me to come up with a way to describe Saki without using his words now. I'll give it a go, but if you ever read this collection forgive me if I sound like Milne!

First I can say that Saki (H.H. Munro was his real name...hmm, these British gents back then liked to use initials instead of first names!) is one of the most sarcastic and bitter writers I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying! If one of his stories seems to be going along at a good, positive clip, you can be sure it's going to take a sharp turn soon towards irony. His recurring character in many of these stories is Clovis Sangrail, a 17 year old who has seen it all and knows how to use the people around him to make his life more amusing. The rest are about unrelated people and places, but they all have the touch of the dark side of life.

There are 29 short stories in this collection so I won't talk about all of them, but some of my favorites are "The Music on the Hill", "The Hounds of Fate", "The Remoulding of Groby Lington", "Tobermory", ... alright, I'll just talk about those four.

"The Music on the Hill" is the only story from this book that I've read before. It was part of a collection of short stories about weird and unusual phenomenon. It's actually why I thought that all Saki's stories would be like this, but they aren't. It's highly sarcastic, with a young couple living in their country home because the new wife thought it would be nice. It took a lot of persuading to get her husband to make the move, but now he seems to be reluctant to ever leave. There's an ominous feel about the place and the husband is acting strangely. So young wife decides to follow him one day, hears some odd piping music coming from the direction her husband went, and finds a small alter to Pan in the woods. Someone has put an offering of grapes on it, and in disgust she throws them away. The music stops, and her troubles begin.

"The Hounds of Fate" is one of those depressing little gems about how no matter how far you run, fate will track you down. It's well written and again rather eerie, though not as mystical as "The Music on the Hill".

For pure humor "The Remoulding of Groby Lington" is great. It's about a rather retiring man who has a pet parrot whose nephew brings to his attention that he's very similar to his pet. Then his brother brings home a pet monkey for Groby, and he turns from parrot to something else...

And "Tobermory" is just plain evil. It's about a cat who's been trained to speak English. Sounds great, eh? Well, that is until Tobermory starts blabbing about who he's seen doing what with whom...

All in all, a great collection. There are other stories I enjoyed also, but it's hard to go over them all here. Just take my word for it, they're worth the time!

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