I love Roald Dahl’s adult short stories. These four new editions are categorised: Lust, Deception, Madness and Cruelty being the themes (though from this edition alone I can say that all four are fully represented within). In this volume are ten tales of ‘craving and desire’, mostly with a dark twist, and often funny.
Each story is prefaced by its original date of publication, and the magazine or collection in which it featured. I found it interesting that several of Dahl’s stories were originally published in Playboy, not prominent in my mind as a source of literary fiction but there you go… those four stories were probably the most explicit in the book (for the 1960s at least, in today’s climate they would be still quite restrained.
Two of my favourite stories concerned the same character. The unnamed narrator is sent a crate filled with beautifully bound books, twenty eight volumes that turn out to be his long-lost uncle’s diaries. In lieu of a financial inheritance, his uncle has left him these but warns that to publish them would mean ruin, despite any monies made through their sale. Uncle Oswald turns out to be a man who would make Casanova look like a prude, and the diaries are his detailed accounts of every seduction and adventure he has taken on his many travels. Interestingly, Oswald doesn’t always get exactly his own way, which makes him a rather more sympathetic character than he deserves:
I myself have never, absolutely never permitted an intimate relationship to last for more than twelve hours. That is the furthest limit. Even eight hours is stretching it a bit, to my mind.
Oswald’s attitudes towards women are not unusual amongst the male characters in the book. I would say that you need to keep in mind that these stories were published between 1945 and 1974. They reflect accepted attitudes of those times. Women in these stories are wives, assistants, rarely a main character. Those women who do show strength are generally cut down, though the men too get their comeuppance. Reading these in a historical context, I didn’t find them too offensive, though The Great Switcheroo (next door neighbours decide on a scheme to wife swap – without telling their wives) came close.
For anyone who loves a good book cover, the artwork on these editions is also exquisite, created by British artist Charming Baker with the themes in mind. I might just add the other three to my bookshelf before long.