So, my Complete Saki book broke the writing up into three categories, Short Stories, Novels & Plays. Thus, thankfully, after spending some time in the posthumous short stories, I’m back to Saki’s glory days. This book comes right after his best book of short stories, The Chronicles of Clovis, and it is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of his achievements as a writer. The Bassington of the title is Comus Bassington, a wealthy fop, arrogant, condescending, lazy, altogether, well, unbearable. At first it seems that this book is going to be wholly taken up with lampooning the upper classes, as most of Saki’s short stories have been. But this book demonstrates something that none of Saki’s short stories has shown in even the slightest: compassion. Empathy even. No mistake, there’s still plenty of lampooning of the upper class and the book is as hilarious as anything Saki ever wrote. But as the novel progresses, it finds a strange sadness in the relationship between Comus and his widowed mother Francesca. The book explores the way in which close family relationships fracture under the stress of attempted change; as Comus has grown up, rather than their relationship changing, it has drifted into a sad state of regretted antipathy. But it’s in exploring the way in which both mother and son feel regret but also hopelessness in regards to any possible change that the book becomes downright tragic. Comus and Francesca become real, live, breathing characters, something few of Saki’s characters have managed before and as the book progresses it becomes sadder and sadder as these two genuinely broken people struggle to reach out to each other, but are unable to do so because of pride and shame and regret. It’s really a great tragedy at the end of the day. I really can’t recommend this sadly forgotten novel highly enough; if my little trip through Saki’s work accomplishes nothing else, it’s given me this unforgettable novel and I’m unbelievably grateful. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Saki’s comic writing also boasts the tragic story of a mother and son seeking to reconnect; Saki’s mockery is as sharp as ever, but there’s beautiful sadness this time out as well. 4 stars.