Roald Dahl would have been 100 years old on the 13 September 2016 so it is apt time to re-evaluate his work. In this post, I will examine his short stories written for adults.
In 1991 Roald Dahl published 48 of his short stories in The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl. The book collects in one volume his adult short stories previously published in Kiss, Kiss (1960), Over To You (1946), Switch Bitch (1974), Someone Like You (1953) and includes eight further ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (1980). Collected Stories , a hard cover book of his collected stories, was published in 2006 (Everyman’s Library). The stories are presented in chronological order: http://roalddahl.wikia.com/wiki/Roald_Dahl:_Collected_Stories Find Jeremy Treglown’s excellent Introduction here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/sep/09/roalddahl.fiction
Roald Dahl was a brilliant, agile writer who appealed to a mass audience. The obvious question is what are Dahl’s best short stories and how do you go about assessing his work?
Last month I reread Dahl’s short stories and gave each an impression mark out of 10 based on the following criteria:
· the ingeniousness of the storyline
· the quality of the writing
· the ability of the narrative to keep you guessing as to what is to happen next
· its exposure of human folly through humour/ satire
· the subtleties &/ or the outrageousness of the resolution
#15 William and Mary (25 pages) written 1959 from Kiss, Kiss
William Pearl, a teacher of philosophy, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is approached by Dr Landy, a brilliant neuro-surgeon, who proposes Pearl leave his magnificent brain to Science. On the surface, this story appears to be a Frankenstein like parody but it is essentially about the strained relations between the hateful, misogynistic William husband and his subservient wife.
A wiki synopsis can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_and_Mary_(short_story)
A short-lived series ‘Way Out’ (1961) hosted by Dahl featured a short tele-play of the story. William and Mary- Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMDSP8J7lzc
#14 Claud’s Dog (52 pages) from Someone Like You
This story actually consists of four loosely connected sub-stories ‘The Ratcatcher’, ‘Rummins’, ‘Mr Hoddy’ and ‘Mr Feasy’. What I particularly admire about the stories is the credible, social realism which propels these stories. As in Dahl’s collection of World War 2 stories Over To You (1946), he is fictionalising his experiences, rather than immersing us in a total artifice. By far the best story of the four is ‘Mr Feassy’ which takes the reader into the shonky world of greyhound racing.
Roald Dahl Fans.com has overviews of most of Dahl’s stories but contain spoilers. Here’s there’s synopsis for ‘Mr Feasy’: http://www.roalddahlfans.com/shortstories/mrfe.php
#13 The Last Act (26 pages) from Switch Bitch (first published in Playboy, January 1966)
Anna Greenwood’s husband is killed in a motor vehicle accident near the beginning of the story. Her children eventually move away and Anna is left terribly alone. She thinks about killing herself but her friend Elizabeth Paoletti asks her to fill in one day for some sick colleagues at an adoption society and this changes her life. While in Dallas she rings an old boyfriend Conrad Kreuger and they arrange to meet. I like the truthful way this story shuffles to its climax.
A wiki synopsis can be found here:
#12 Katina (21 pages) from Over To You (first published Ladies Home Journal, March 1944)
This story is set in Greece in early April 1941 and fictionalises an experience of Dahl’s as a fighter pilot in the RAF. A young girl Katina is left orphaned after the Germans bombed the village of Paramythia & after she is found amongst the ruins she becomes a kind of mascot for the pilots. A series of amazing anecdotes focussed on the RAF resistance against a much larger German air force is punctuated with a terrible personal tragedy.
#11 The Great Switcheroo (21 pages) from Switch Bitch (originally published in Playboy April 1974)
At a cocktail party at Jerry and Samantha’s, Victor Hammond lusts after Samantha and in a late night conversation with Jerry, Victor tells him about a friend who has an ingenious scheme of wife swapping with his neighbour without the wife’s knowing about it. They agree on their own “switcheroo” and Dahl handles the subsequent events which lead to the “searing paroxysm” with considerable skill, delicacy and riotously good humour.
Short film on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/111316745
#10 Parson’s Pleasure (21 pages) from Kiss, Kiss
9 to 1 will follow
Other honourable mentions include:
Official Roald Dahl site: http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl