Tuesday, 14 November 2000

Rudyard Kipling: The Day's Work (1898)

Edition: MacMillan, 1982
Review number: 683

Short stories of variable quality make up The Day's Work; it contains some of Kipling's best writing alongside some of his worst. The stories have no feature common to them all; most are set away from India, most have non-human characters - animals or machines are anthropomorphised.

To take the poor stories first, .007 (about railway locomotives) and A Walking Delegate (about horses and Communism) seem twee; the two entitled William the Conqueror are dull and have a sentimentalised ending which makes it obvious that they were originally written for the Christmas market.

However, these failures are set against the first and last in the collection, The Bridge Builders and The Brushwood Boy. In the latter and in The Maltese Cat, the anthropomorphism succeeds as well as it does in the Jungle Book. (The former is one of Kipling's Indian stories.) The Maltese Cat is an enjoyable tale of a polo match from the point of view of the ponies; it is described on the jacket as the greatest of all polo stories, hardly a genre providing much competition, but it must rank as one of the best descriptions of team sports ever written. Another memorable story is The Ship That Found Herself, an imaginative tale of the maiden voyage of a ship as experienced by the various components which make it up.

The best stories make this a collection worth reading; it is a shame that the quality is so uneven.

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