Sometimes There’s a Reason: Dropping Dumas & Enchanted by Lord Berners

No, I have too many books!

Every year, my favorite bloggers pipe up: “We plan to read more books from our own shelves.” What an enticing idea! I have a LOT of dusty books, on a LOT of shelves, and I’d love to get rid of the bookcases in the dining room, where the incongruous shelving of the Brownings beside Lilian Jackson Braun lowers the level of conversation.

My better-organized fellows have a certain je ne sais quoi. They emanate a charming positivity, a Pollyanna-ish spirit that can guide them through the slog of Dumas and the unvarying cleverness of Georgette Heyer. They have spreadsheets. It is humbling. But who knows? Perhaps they, too, have bookcases in the dining room.

Mind you, I recently lost my Dumas book after enjoying 300 pages of it. And I’ve forgotten the title! Well, in my defense, the title was French. Easy French, but French. La Sanfelice, or The Vicomte de Bragelonne, I think. Perhaps I could open ANY Dumas book at page 300 and enjoy it.

Oh, well, the Dumas book did make it off the shelf.

I had better luck with Lord Berners’s Collected Tales and Fantasies. I stared at it gloomily, and thought, Well, let’s try it. And I was enchanted by this strange collection of macabre, witty tales and novellas. Lord Berners (1883-1950) was known for eccentricity as a writer, composer, and painter. He moved in the set of the Sitwells. He also knew Nancy Mitford, who based her character Lord Merlin on him.

Two of the stories in this collection feature animals with special powers. In his charming novella, The Camel, a camel rings the doorbell at the vicarage one snowy day. The Reverend is terrified, but his wife Antonia leads the camel to the barn: she rode camels when she was a missionary in the East. And soon she and the camel have a special bond, as she rides him around the village, where he does not cause as much chaos as you might think, except for one man’s worry that he is hallucinating. The camel is so fond of Antonia that every time she makes a wish, he grants it. She wishes she had a mink coat like a posh neighbor’s, and it shows up at the vicarage. Yes, the camel steals for her! Everyone is quite puzzled.

In “Mister Pidger,” Millicent Denham surreptitiously brings her lapdog Mister Pidger on a visit to Uncle Wilfred Davenant. Uncle Wilfrid has disinherited one couple who brought a dog to the house, so Millicent’s husband Walter rightly worries they will be disinherited because of Mister Pidger. Millicent plans to hide Mister Pidger in her bedroom, but anyway who wouldn’t adore this charming lapdog? I won’t give away the plot, but you will wonder: IS Mister Pidger psychic?

All the stories are imaginative and very strange: in “The Romance of a Nose,” Cleopatra has plastic surgery. In “Percy Wallingford,” the perfect man’s perfect life abruptly falls apart; are the causes supernatural?

I am not at all sure the genre here is fantasy, but I suppose “fantasies” is accurate.

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