The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories by Saki

This New York Review Books edition of The Un-rest Cure and Other Stories by Saki is a compilation from several different collections. There’s a total of 26 stories here:

From Reginald:

Reginald at the Carlton

Reginald on Besetting Sins

Reginald’s Drama 

From Reginald in Russia:

The Reticence of Lady Anne

The Strategist

From The Chronicles of Clovis

Tobermory

Mrs. Packlehide’s Tiger

The Stampeding of Lady Bastable

The Unrest-Cure

Sredni Vashtar

Adrian

The Quest

The Peace Offering

The Talking-out of Tarrington

The Hounds of Fate

From Beasts and Superbeasts:

The Boar-Pig

The Open Window

The Cobweb

Fur

From the Toys of Peace:

The Guests

The Penance

Bertie’s Christmas Eve

Quail Seed

Mark

Fate

The Seven Cream Jugs

the unrest cureSaki, whose real name was H. H. Munro (1870-1916), was a British satirist best remembered for his many short stories which skewered and satirized Edwardian society. New York Review Books took a chance with this volume as these collections are free for the kindle, but in this volume, the wit of Saki is paired with the art of Edward Gorey, and it’s an excellent match.

You can’t read these droll stories and imagine for a moment that you are reading anything but a British novelist, and the amusing Reginald stories, full of one-liners, reminded me of PG. Wodehouse more than anyone else. Reginald’s wit is often at the expense of his listening audience–people who just don’t ‘get it.’ In Reginald at the Carleton, the duchess and Reginald converse and touch on the subject of Lady Beauwhistle’s aunt, a woman the duchess claims is “sweet.”

“And so silly. In these days of the overeducation of women, she’s quite refreshing. They say some people went through the siege of Paris without knowing that France and Germany were at war, but the Beauwhistle aunt is credited with having passed the whole winter in Paris under the impression that the Humberts were a kind of bicycle….”

But for this reader, the best stories in the collection are The Chronicles of Clovis. These hilarious, subversive tales, rife with mischief & savage wit, are superb. I simply loved Clovis, a young man who undermines the decorum of Edwardian society at every opportunity, and behind that comment comes the thought that I would love to be Clovis, stirring up mayhem every chance I got.

In the title story, The Unrest-Cure, Clovis is traveling when he overhears a conversation between two men on a train. One of the men named Huddle, complains to his friend that although he’s only a little over 40, he’s become “settled down in the deep groove of elderly middle-age.” For Huddle and his sister, everything in life must remain the same; they loathe change of any sort, even if it’s a “trifling matter.” The latest disturbance in routine involves a thrush who has built its nest in a new location. To Huddle, the change is “unnecessary and irritating.” Huddle’s friend suggests an “unrest-cure.

“You’ve heard of Rest-cures for people who’ve broken down under stress of too much worry and strenuous living; well, you’re suffering from overmuch repose and placidity, and you need the opposite kind of treatment.”

“But where would one go for such a thing?”

“Well, you might stand as an orange candidate for Kilkenny, or do a course of district visiting in one of the *apache headquarters of Paris, or give lectures in Berlin to prove that most of Wagner’s music was written by Gambetta; and there’s always the interior of Morocco to travel in. But, to be really effective, the unrest-cure ought to be tried in the home. How you  would do it, I haven’t the faintest idea.”

Clovis, while he appears to have a languid nature, is never short of ideas and energy when it comes to creating mischief and social sabotage, so he decides to impersonate a bishop’s secretary and visit Huddle who is subsequently provided with the dastardly “unrest-cure.” The outcome is maliciously hilarious, but underneath all the humour, Saki seems to be making a statement about the passivity of the average person when confronted with “authority” and a particularly nasty agenda.

In “The Stampeding of Lady Bastable,” Mrs Sangrail tries to pawn off her son Clovis on Lady Bastable for a few days while she goes to Scotland:

It was her invariable plan to speak in a sleepy, comfortable voice whenever she was unusually keen about anything; it put people off their guard, and they frequently fell in with her wishes before they had realized that she was really asking for anything. Lady Bastable, however, was not so easily taken unawares; possibly she knew that voice and what it betokened-at any rate she knew Clovis.

Lady Bastable still has memories of Clovis’s last stay and isn’t too keen to take responsibility for him again. Mrs. Sangrail’s assurances that Clovis has matured don’t impress Lady Bastable who argues that “it’s no use growing older if you only learn new ways of misbehaving yourself.” But in spite of Lady Bastable’s wariness of Clovis’s “irrepressible waywardness,” she agrees to babysit Clovis in exchange for the cancellation of a gambling debt. Clovis, however, has his own reasons for wanting to go to Scotland, and so he forms a diabolical plan…

There were moments when Clovis could easily have been a character in an Oscar Wilde play. His glib, confident, impromptu fabrications reminded this reader of The Importance of Being Earnest. Full of caustic, yet eccentric wit, these short stories are best savoured slowly, one at a time.

Review copy.

* Apache gangs, known for their savagery, operated in Paris from the late 1800s but disappeared during WWI

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13 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Saki

13 responses to “The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories by Saki

  1. Jonathan

    After meaning to read him for years I read my first Saki book in the summer, The Chronicles of Clovis. The stand-out story for me was The Unrest Cure which reads like a twisted P.G. Wodehouse story so I’m pleased to see it taking pride of place in this collection.

    Sometimes the titles alone are brilliant, such as The Stampeding of Lady Bastable or Filboid Studge, the Story of a Mouse that Helped. What I liked about his humour is that there’s a mixture of understatement and surreal slapstick.

    I just looked at The Stampeding and came across this great line: ‘Clovis said suitable things in a highly unsuitable manner…’ – brilliant!

    Do you plan on reading more Saki?

    • I downloaded the complete Chronicles of Clovis, so yes I want to read the lot. Funny, I’d seen the name ‘Saki’ for years but had no curiosity until I saw the NYRB edition. Then I knew the stories had to be good.

  2. Saki is absolutely one of my favorite writers. There are so many brilliantly hilarious stories that it’s hard to pick a favorite. By the way, you mention Reginald and Clovis but leave out Vera, the expert of ‘romance at short notice’. Admittedly she just has two stories but she is so awesome and I wish she could have had her own series.

  3. Brian Joseph

    I have heard of this writer but have not read him.

    I love stories that satirize and assault convention. It is a great idea to match a book like this with quality illustration. I think that maybe this kind of “Collectors” book, that enhances the experience of owning and actually owning a physical book, may be the future of the old fashioned paper book.

    • I agree that collectors’ editions certainly argue for a future print copy, and yesterday I TRIED to read a FREE kindle translation of a Russian book but after a couple of pages, I decided to buy a new print translation. The free one was awful

  4. I’ve read him as a teenager but didn’t really get him then. I found him so dry but now I think I’d like him very much. I should have a collection somewhere. I also think that a book that’s nicely done will always find buyers, even if the stories are free for the kindle.

  5. leroyhunter

    Saki is one of my all-time icons. He inserts often the tiniest deviations from “normality” into his tales, then watches the gap widen until chaos ensues.

    It’s a rare skill to be both so cutting and so droll.

    • Good to know that you like him. Do you have a favourite character?

      • leroyhunter

        Hmm, haven’t thought of that before. Clovis, obviously: but there’s such a parade of miscreants and nincompoops in his stories that picking just one seems invidious. Tobermory, the sarcastic and superior cat, is a favourite.

  6. I love the quotes. I’m not sure I’d get all the jokes,though.

    I’m sure Clovis is a funny character. For me Clovis is the King of Francs, the first king of France and since I seldom hear that name out of this context, it’s hard to picture a mischievous Clovis. Not that it would be enough to put me off the book (this time)

  7. I bought the Penguin Complete Saki last year, and haven’t got past the first set of Reginald stories – which I adored for their one-liners, but could only read a few at a time. Your post has reminded me that I have loads more including all the Clovis ones still to come!

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