The seven stories in this collection are brilliant examples of the bizarre and wholly unexpected world that Roald Dahl, ‘that great magician’ (Spectator), made his own. It includes not only the trademark dark humour and other-worldly goings-on of ‘The Swan’ and ‘The Boy Who Talked With Animals’, but also a fascinating short essay on how he started writing, his first-ever story, ‘A Piece of Cake’, and the delightfully surprising title tale of a rich young idler who develops a most remarkable ability. Reading them, you’ll find that people are far stranger than you could possibly have suspected …
Roald Dahl’s voice is one that calls me straight back to my childhood and doesn’t let me go until his stories have finished with me. I adored this man’s works when I was younger. I read them countless times. As an adult, I have sometimes wondered what I would think, whether his bias against many members of society would affect my perception of his work. I am usually adept at pushing this aside. While such views are clearly, clearly wrong and probably adults should introduce these facets into discussion with children, it would be useless to forget the past and ignore the fact that Roald Dahl’s beliefs were shared by many. With this in mind, I greatly enjoyed this collection of short stories.
Actually, my least favorite story was probably the title tale. This one follows Henry Sugar, essentially a wastrel, to his discovery of a little blue book which contains an extraordinary story about a man who develops the ability to see somehow without his eyes, but through sustained and focused concentration. Henry learns this skill himself in order to become more successful at gambling, but when money is easy, he learns that there is more in the world he should be fighting for. I don’t know, but I just wasn’t really crazy about the story. I didn’t feel that Henry really redeemed himself or was any different at the end. I didn’t mind the magical aspects, indeed I expected them from Dahl, so it was mostly just his character that got to me.
I enjoyed the rest of the stories though. I really loved Dahl’s essay on how he became a writer and his first short story. I knew most of his history, but I haven’t read Boy or Going Solo for at least 10 years. I love the way he tells his personal history and this was no exception. The way that he backed into writing is fascinating and makes me think of what we would have missed out on had he never managed to find his way. I love the way he tells history, too. I think it adds a more personal touch to the British history which I am so fascinated by. All this time I loved memoirs and when I was a kid, I didn’t even know what I was reading!
This review has become more of an ode to Roald Dahl than a review. To be honest, these stories are mostly not his best work. They don’t quite match up to his novels for kids. (I’m not sure I want to go into his novels for adults. I’m quite happy compartmentalizing him in the happy childhood box of my brain considering what I’ve heard. ) Still, they are entertaining and were a wonderful nostalgia trip for me. If you loved Roald Dahl’s books, you will probably love these stories, too.