Wednesday, 21 March 2001

Saki: The Unbearable Bassington (1912)

Edition: Penguin, 1982
Review number: 788

At the beginning of Monro's first novel, the reader assumes that what they are reading is going to be exactly like his Reginald stories, but on a larger scale. Comus Bassington is another of the upper class young men with a cynical outlook on life. The plot is basically that his mother keeps trying to arrange things for Comus - the opportunity for a job as a secretary, or an advantageous marriage, for the Bassington fmaily is not so well off as they appear - only for Comus to spoil things by selfishness or an unwillingness to be guided by another.

The first thing which makes The Unbearable Bassington different is that Comus is not the sardonic observer that Reginald is. There is plenty of dissection of the foolishness of high society, but Comus is not the dissector. He is not sufficiently interested in the world outside himself to comment on it.

What makes The Unbearable Bassington more than social satire is the quite extraordinary power of the ending, which is extremely effective. Saki is famous for his satire; he has a marvellous if sometimes nasty imagination; but here he shows a literary merit quite different from those normally associated with him. The Unbearable Bassington is one of the peaks of his writing.

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