Review Blog

Dec 18 2015

Gabriel-Ernest and other tales by Saki

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Ill. by Quentin Blake. Alma Books, 2015. ISBN 9781847495921
(Age: 15+) Hector Hugh Munro's stories are satirical vignettes of English society life before World War 1. In this compilation by Alma Classics, nine of the best tales have been republished. Saki (Hector Munro's pen name) was an observer of life, who used his acerbic wit, pithy social commentary and mastery of the vernacular of the late Victorian era to write these short tales. Each one has a twist, something to shock or surprise the audience, a sting in the tail.
One of his most familiar characters is Gabriel-Ernest, a feral teenager who lives in the woods and loves to eat flesh, especially human flesh. When Mr. Van Cheele meets the sixteen-year-old sunbaking nude near a forest pool, his decision to bring the adolescent home leads to an unfortunate ending. Quentin Blake's ink sketches capture the quintessentially English settings, the era and the cast of characters. Gabriel-Ernest is drawn a gentle character with none of his darker nature shown.
Another tale with a disturbing ending is Sredni Vashtar, where Conradin, an ill ten-year-old boy who lives with his strict guardian, secretly hides his pet polecat-ferret in the garden shed. He idolises the animal and performs religious ceremonies in front of his cage. When evil Mrs. De Ropp punishes him by removing his pet Houdan hen, the young boy pleads with the ferret to avenge this cruel act.
Other tales explore magic, revenge, secrets and hidden rooms, upper-class English society and their way of living and comments on the role of children and their education. At the conclusion, information on the author, his characters and other masters of short stories are included.
Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales is for the discerning reader who enjoys period settings, Dahlesque humour and social observations. Alma Classics recommended reading age is 9+, however owing to the macabre content this story collection is better suited to an adolescent audience.
Rhyllis Bignell

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