Tuesday 16 September 2008

No need to be Saki

Our Vicar's Wife and I, along with some local friends, are in the midst of a literature and arts week - one of Our Vicar's Wife's creation and assembly, that is. Yesterday it kicked off with sophisticated afternoon tea and an informal book group, where we all talked about what we'd been reading recently. Today started off with a book group on Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Soceity, for which Our Vicar's Wife had asked me to talk a little about the history of the epistolary novel... I was rather embarrassed and spoke too quickly, but didn't go too badly. Always fun to mock Pamela a little bit...

In the afternoon we had a look round some of the studios and gardens open for Somerset Arts Week - saw some wonderful watercolours, exceptional animal sculptures, and fun designs with fabrics. Lots of things I'd have spent money on if I had it. A trip to a local book barn (not the Bookbarn) led to my buying Miss Mole by EH Young, and then we had a play reading of Noel Coward's one-act play Ways and Means. Tomorrow we're off to Lyme Regis to play at Persuasion and The French Lieutenant's Woman.

In the evening, not part of the schedule but coincidental, I flicked on to a repeat on BBC4, called Who Killed Mrs. De Ropp? I was so excited when we first got BBC4, the cultural channel supposedly crammed with programmes about literature and art and such like. Hmm. Hasn't really happened - I've probably wanted to watch about three programmes in the three years we've had it. But tonight has added a fourth - Who Killed Mrs. De Ropp? According to IMDB it was first shown on 2 May 2007, so I'm hopelessly behind the times, but am very glad they chose to repeat it. The programme is based on three short stories by Saki, and stars the wonderful Gemma Jones. I've never read anything by Saki, but have had a collection of his work on my shelves for years, which I think Our Vicar's Wife gave to me. Having had a sample of his work, I am now very keen to read them - and each story is so short that it would do before bed.

The three stories used for Who Killed Mrs. De Ropp? are 'The Story-Teller' and 'The Lumber-Room' from Beasts and Super-Beasts, and 'Sredni Vashtar' from The Chronicles of Clovis. Though with seemingly little connection, they are all linked by an overbearing female relative and mutinous children - so the makers of the programme assimilated these into one overbearing female relative and one group of mutinous children. What is most impressive about this programme is that it came directly from the books - almost nothing wass altered. Since Saki was a character, he did the narrative bits. And it's wonderful - the stories are slightly macabre, they also have a deliciously light tone, almost EM Delafield-esque. For instance:

[On a train:] The smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to recite 'One the Road to Manderley.' She only knew the first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the fullest possible use. She repeated the line over and over again in a dreamy but resolute and very audible voice; it seemed to the bachelor as though some one had had a bet with her that she could not repeat the line aloud two thousand times without stopping. Whoever it was who had made the wager was likely to lose his bet.

Any Saki-lovers out there? I'm going to make a start on Beasts and Super-Beasts forthwith.


  1. I read Saki when I was about 15 and haven't re-read him since but remember clearly how his stories made me chuckle and sometimes even laugh aloud. Hope you enjoy them.

  2. So glad you found a copy of Miss Mole! You're going to love it!

  3. I must go and dig out mine. First read "The Lumber Room" in school back in nineteen-seventy blah.

  4. Saki is one of my great short story writer finds this year--his work is great. So tongue in cheek--I get a kick out of his stories (though I suppose he isn't always entirely PC--I'll cut him some slack considering when he lived and wrote). My favorite is An Open Window. I need to read more of his work. I've got a collection of his Clovis stories.

  5. I've loved Saki since I was your age. Do read Tobermory.


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