The other day I mentioned, amongst my goods from Liverpool, A Shot in the Dark by Saki. This is a beautiful Hesperus edition, which initially I bought just because my collected Saki is unwieldly, and I wanted to have some in a pocket edition. (I should add that it’s actually Mum and Dad’s collected Saki, which I’ve ‘borrowed’… call it short-circuiting my inheritance) But then I discovered, upon reading the introduction, that A Shot in the Dark is a collection of works discovered after the Complete Ed. was published – i.e. they’re not in there.
A few are familiar. ‘The Miracle Merchant’ is essentially Clovis story ‘The Hen’ dramatised; an earlier published version of ‘Tobermory’ is included; ‘A Sacrifice to Necessity’ is very, very similar to ‘The Stake’. But A Shot in the Dark isn’t just for Saki completists – some stories have lain undiscovered. ‘Dogged’, which was published in St. Paul’s magazine in February 1899, is thought to be the very first story Saki had published – and has never been anthologised or collected before. And, what’s more, it’s probably the best one in this collection. To be quite so witty and brilliant from the off is a little astonishing, not to say irritating to us lesser mortals.
‘Dogged’ is about a mild-mannered man being cajouled into buying a dog at a church bazaar: ‘A rakish-looking fox terrier, stamped with the hallmark of naked and unashamed depravity, and wearing the yawningly alert air of one who has found the world is vain and likes it all the better for it’. The dog manages to take over his life, and the story is representative of Saki’s merciless style and exaggerated incident.
I’ve already eulogised about how wonderful Saki is – see this post – but I never got around to writing about Beasts and Superbeasts, which I read last year. I can’t imagine why it didn’t make my Top 15 of 2008 – I must have been feeling serious when I composed that list, as it is the funniest book I’ve read in a long time. His tales dabble in the absurd, the commonplace, the mystical, the down-to-earth – but always with a great understanding of humanity (especially children) and a fondness for hyperbole which I love. If PG Wodehouse had written short stories, and had a very slightly crueller sense of humour, these would be the result.
If you’ve never tried Saki, do so immediately. Even if you don’t like short stories usually, I can’t imagine anyone disliking these – if you’re the sort of person who keeps a book in the loo (and I am) then Saki could work a treat. If you think you’ve got a Complete Saki, then you’re missing this selection – which comes with an interesting Introduction by Adam Newell and Foreword by Jeremy Dyson. Rectify the omission as soon as possible.