The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H H Munro by Sandie Byrne - review by Peter Washington

Peter Washington

The Birth of Sredni Vashtar

The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H H Munro

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Oxford University Press 272pp £19.99 order from our bookshop
 

In all the fuss about the rebirth of native literature allegedly taking place north of the border since devolution, little has been heard of one undeniably Gaelic name: Hector Hugh Munro, alias Saki. This is understandable. As Sandie Byrne points out in her new book, at first sight everything about Saki’s work – and about Munro himself – strikes one as typically English. There are many images of Englishness, of course, often in conflict with one another. Today most are plebeian, but Saki’s is aristocratic of a sort: unflappable, humorous, sardonic, superior, courteous, reckless, even slightly mad. The genial face of this image is Bertie Wooster, the vulgar face James Bond, the dangerous face Clovis Sangrail.

Saki’s protagonists know the forms. They also know how to subvert them and do so with relish. Munro was a gentleman (when that word meant something) who wrote best about characters who are anything but gentlemen. Comus Bassington and Clovis are certainly well-bred; they are not well-intentioned. It is one

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