An NYRB Classics Original
The whimsical, macabre tales of British writer H. H. Munro—better known as Saki—skewer the banality and hypocrisy of polite English society between the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of World War I. Saki’s heroes are enfants terribles who marshal their considerable wit and imagination against the cruelty and fatuousness of a decorous and doomed world.
Here, Saki’s brilliantly polished dark gems are paired with illustrations by the peerless Edward Gorey, available for the first time in an English-language edition. The fragile elegance and creeping menace of Gorey’s pen-and-ink drawings perfectly complements Saki’s population of delicate ladies, mischief-making charges, spectral guests, sardonic house pets, flustered authority figures, and delightfully preposterous imposters.
Like Wilde and Wodehouse, Saki knew his way round the clubs and country houses of the upper classes, whose absurdities and hypocrisies he exposed with razor-sharp wit… .One is delighted to discover a writer with a vision of humanity shot through with a pessimism as bleak as that of Swift, Céline, Bernhard, Kingsley Amis.
The epigrams, the absurdities fly unremittingly back and forth, they dazzle and delight… . Saki, like a chivalrous highwayman, only robs the rich: behind all these stories is an exacting sense of justice.
A strange exotic creature, this Saki. For we were so domestic, he so terrifyingly cosmopolitan. While we were being funny, as planned, with collar-studs and hot-water bottles, he was being much funnier with werewolves and tigers.
—A. A. Milne
Start a Saki story and you will finish it. Finish one and you will start another, and having finished them all you will never forget them. They remain an addiction because they are so much more than funny.
Saki was incapable of writing a dull sentence, but the final lines of his short stories are works of art in themselves…[He] has been called “the most malicious writer of them all,” and while it’s true that an air of cruelty runs through much of his work, the recipients of Saki’s malice always deserve their fates—be they overbearing, child-hating aunts, self-important politicos or tedious club-land bores…. In an age when many artists have forgotten the wise adage that more is less, it is timely to remember a writer who often said more in the 2,000 or so words of a short story than many others have in a lifetime.
—Neil Clark, The Telegraph
It is for the terse brilliance of his short stories that he is remembered 92 years after his death…weird, but in a good way.