One of the highlights of my trip to Shetland was meeting Micheal Walmer, who has recently moved up there. We got a socially distanced walk between weathers and to talk about books - including ‘The Unbearable Bassington’, and wondered what kind of writer Saki would have become if he hadn't been killed in the first world war. I think that the answer is partly here.
I'm more familiar with Saki's short stories, frequently anthologized in the sort of collections I like so there's a decent quantity of them I've read many times, as well as often dipping into a comprehensive penguin edition. They're funny and memorable with all the authors trade mark wit, cruelty, and elegance, but this is the only longer work I've read. The body of the book feels typical enough but there's an emotional punch at the end which I don't find in the short stories.
‘The Unbearable Bassington’ in question is (presumably) a youth called Comus who is more force of nature than boy, a fated lord of misrule who sails through his school days care of good looks, undeniable charm, and sufficient sporting prowess. Post school and the world isn’t quite so kind to Comus; there are no shortage of charming young men on the town and neither he or his long suffering mother have any money, Comus needs to contract a decent marriage as the chances of him making any sort of hand at a career are slim. Unfortunately he blows it in the marriage stakes through sheer perversity which leaves him with but one option – he’s exported to West Africa in the traditional manner of black sheep in the age of empire.