Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Roald Dahl’

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl

Switch Bitch is a collection of four short stories for adults. Each story is a perfect showcase for Roald Dahl’s talent for entertaining readers by creating nasty characters who behave in nasty ways.

The Visitor is an extract from the diary of the fictional Oswald Hendryks Cornelius when he was tom-catting around the Sinai in 1946 at the age of 51. Although Oswald didn’t look dangerous (he wasn’t tall, dark or handsome), he could seduce any woman he wanted with his fascinating voice and a flare of his nostrils. Once the conquest had been made, Oswald moved speedily to his next challenge.

Unfortunately for Oswald, his expensive and glamourous sportscar, a Lagonda, broke down in the desert as he was fleeing his latest victim. Luckily a stranger with an exceptionally beautiful wife and daughter took Oswald in for the night.

For those who are interested, the following photos shows a Lagonda. I was more smitten by the car than by Oswald.

The Great Switcheroo tells the story of two married men who came up with the idea of swapping beds for a night without telling their wives who they would be sleeping with. Moral qualms, anyone? The Great Switcheroo is effectively a story about two men raping each other’s wives.

The main character in The Last Act was a widow who loved her husband dearly. After he died the woman’s doctor put the idea into her head that she would never be happy again until she found herself another man. Despite the doctor’s ridiculous advice the woman eventually moved past the first stages of grief, took a job and found that life was worth living again, until she met up with an old boyfriend who took his revenge on her for having dumped him many years ago.

Bitch was another extract from Oswald Hendryks Cornelius’ diaries. In this account Oswald invested in a perfume which sent men into a frenzy, in the way of a male dog in the vicinity of a female dog on heat. Due to a series of unfortunate incidents all except one sample of the perfume was destroyed, but Oswald managed to save the last sample with the intention of using it to bring down an American President.

The stories all have a nastiness about them but happily most of the darker characters got their comeuppance except for those The Last Act, which was a particularly cruel story. The other three stories were at least amusing, despite the moral questions they raised.

I admire writers who aren’t afraid to write stories that offend or disturb their readers, although I don’t always want to read these types of stories. I suspect this collection won’t be for everyone but for anyone who appreciates dark and twisted characters and doings, it’s hard to go past Roald Dahl.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl

I had read a couple of the short stories from The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl previously but the rest were new to me. The stories are aimed at older children so of course I enjoyed them enormously.

The collection started with The Boy Who Talked With Animals. The narrator is an Englishman on a beach holiday in Jamaica where local fishermen caught an enormous turtle which they dragged up onto the beach. One particularly obnoxious holiday-maker wanted to buy the turtle’s shell while others looked forward to eating turtle soup and steak. At this point I considered becoming a vegetarian. It seemed to me that the turtle owned its own shell and contents, regardless of who else wanted them. Although the narrator was sympathetic to the fate of the turtle, the only advocate for the turtle’s life was a young boy.

The next story was The Hitch-Hiker whose narrator picked up a hitch-hiker in his high-powered car. The hitch-hiker’s trade as a ‘fingersmith’ proved useful when the narrator was caught speeding.

The Mildenhall Treasure was new to me. The story is a fictionalised version of an actual find of Roman treasure by a farmer in England while ploughing a paddock. I’ve been fascinated by the details of the find since reading this story and have been poring over photos of the 34 pieces of magnificent silver which are now housed in the British Museum.

The Swan is the story of two teenage bullies who went out bird-shooting but ended up tormenting a younger child. Nobody portrays horrible children quite so well as Roald Dahl.

The title story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar tells of a rich, good-for-nothing who reads an account of a man who could see without using his eyes. Henry Sugar decided to learn to do this himself so he could cheat his friends at cards. It took him years to learn but once he did, Henry Sugar became a better person.

Lucky Break How I Became a Writer is the author’s account of what it takes to be a writer and how he became one, starting with his childhood at boarding school where he was brutally beaten by school masters and older students. Fortunately he also learned to love good literature from a wonderful woman who taught him and his fellow students about a different landmark event in English Literature every Saturday morning. Dahl then talked about his first job with the Shell Oil Company, for whom he was working in Tanzania when World War Two broke out. He became a writer after the war when he met C.S. Forester, which is every bit as amazing a story as all of the rest.

The last story in this collection is A Piece of Cake My First Story – 1942. This is Dahl’s account of a plane crash he had during the war in the desert, which he wrote for C.S. Forester when asked to provide the details of his most exciting adventure during war time. C.S. Forester had requested this with the intention of turning into a story for a newspaper but ended up submitting Dahl’s story to the newspaper without changing a word. The story earned Dahl $1000 and a letter from C.S. Forester asking, “Did you know you were a writer?”

I’d forgotten how readable Roald Dahl’s stories are. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne at the moment and seeing the gorgeously purple and gold advertising for the show on the theatre’s fa├žade and on trams, buildings and flagpoles all around town made me pick up this book.

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