Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ruskin Bond - Snappy Surprises

Published by Rupa, this collection of short ("super shorts", according to Mr Bond) stories is a breezy read, partly due to the format itself, but mainly because the twist-in-the-tale genre was handled better by authors of old. From the occult to the criminal, motives that arose from individual character exploration were a fairly common hallmark of English fiction writers.

Ambrose Bierce, whose stories have been placed by Ruskin at the beginning of the anthology, had a sharp wit by all accounts. I have had his Devil's Dictionary on iBooks since day one, and still find myself flicking through it while traveling. It certainly rips apart the contemporary political and religious landscape, with his trademark satire and acerbic wordplay. One of Douglas Adams' books, Liff, was constructed/compiled along somewhat similar lines, but to equally, if not more, uproarious effect.

Ruskin (he is a charming, gentle, all-smiles man, so I like to refer to him by first name - when I got his autograph at the Times Lit Fest in Delhi this year, he did me the honor of signing my copy of Douglas Adams' A Salmon of Doubt as well, chuckling as he scribbled his "Rusty" scrawl) mentions Bierce's mysterious disappearance in America, which had intrigued me even when I had read about it earlier. His stories, too, are puzzling - at least the ones chosen by Ruskin for this collection.

Kipling and Saki prove their exalted statuses with just a couple of stories plucked from their expansive repertoire. Rudyard Kipling is also one of that tribe of authors living out the ends of their lives in the New Continent/World. Saki (the pen name for H H Munro) was influenced by Kipling by his own admission.

Lord Halifax and Mr Bond themselves pitch in a pair of stories each, and I was surprised - pleasantly - seeing H P Lovecraft's name in the contents. The story, The Statement of Randolph Carter, is quite notable for his usual imaginations of nefarious beasts lurking under the earth's surface.

Overall, the four sections (Bierce, Crime, Supernatural and Classic) provide good options for switching genres at the tip of a hat - or a bend in the road. Great for traveling, as well as preserving for the history of words contained therein.

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