In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle pays homage to the master of English comic fiction
Saki’s short stories have everything going for them. For one, they’re short: a few years before Virginia Woolf penned her series of very short sketches about modern life, such as ‘A Haunted House’, ‘The Mark on the Wall’, and ‘Kew Gardens’, Saki – no modernist, but decidedly modern – had reduced the short story form to three pages which contained everything the story needed to contain, with no filler but more wit per page than just about any other English writer, with the possible exception of P. G. Wodehouse (who must have been influenced by Saki). He’s also good on two things which it’s difficult to be good on, as the late Christopher Hitchens observed: children and animals. A number of Saki’s stories touch upon the weird or macabre, while others settle for making us laugh. Many manage both.