Roald Dahl Short Story Collections
Published By: Penguin
Buy Them: here
Roald Dahl. One of the truly great British authors that you know that everyone will have heard of. His amazing books are timeless, imaginative and are for many children, the start of a long love affair with books and reading.
For me, it was Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The very notion that not only could someone own such a magical place, but that this world was one where children could visit and even own it was such an awe inspiring idea!
So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was asked to review four of Roald Dahl’s glorious short story collections reissued by Penguin. Believe me, these are most definitely for the grown ups!
This for me, was a perfect place to start on my Roald Dahl journey. It starts with an autobiographical chapter, Boy. I have to admit that I knew little about the man behind the novels. As we learn about Dahl’s childhood, right from the very start, every chapter in his life is an influence on his writing in later life. His story is punctuated with photos and drawings, and far from this being a staid fact driven work, it feels very much like you are sitting down with your Granddad, as he tells you about his life.
Some of his anecdotes made me laugh out loud – one where he puts a mouse in the gobstopper jar of a particularly cantankerous sweetshop owner called Mrs Pratchett, could just as easily be a scene in George’s Marvellous Medicine!
This chapter ends with Roald Dahl heading off to East Africa, with the ominous foreboding of a Second World War not too far away.
The rest of the book looks at tales of Innocence, and for me, although all of them are brilliant, there are two in particular which unnerved and shocked me slightly!
In Taste, a repugnant wine snob attends a dinner party, and in exchange for correctly guessing a bottle of wine, he wants to take the daughter of the host home. Of course, this being a Roald Dahl story, there is a huge sense of tension as it looks like all is lost and that he will win the daughter. However, Dahl’s skill in effortlessly leading us down one path before revealing the twist is a masterclass in the unexpected!
The most unnerving story for me was The Landlady. An ordinary, apparently nice middle aged woman takes in young men as residents in her boarding house. As she shows around the latest tenant, we as readers can sense that something is very amiss, but it is only when the action moves away to the other people in the house that we see exactly how menacing and shocking her actions are. I loved this story because it was so understated and apparently innocuous, but it packed a huge disturbing punch at the end!
This volume of stories is influenced by Dahl’s experiences during the Second World War. A large part of this volume is take up with another of his autobiographical chapters, called Going Solo. This details his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War II, and provides a no holds barred narrative to the realities and tragedies he faced during his time in the Air Force.
This is a perfect stand alone volume for those who are interested in discovering more about his time during the war, and the beauty of these re-issued editions are that you can pick and choose your volumes to satisfy every readers’ likes and dislikes.
I thought that the story Only This was a beautifully poignant exploration as to the reality of those left behind while their children go off to fight for their country. We see a mother awaiting the return of her son from war, and feel her fear, isolation and loneliness. Then we realise she closes her eyes and can clearly see her son in his aircraft, as he battles and is eventually hit. Unable to free him, she decides to try and save him by throwing herself on top of him. Back in her cottage, she sits back in her chair and brings the blankets close around her – but that is not the end of the story..
Tales of Deceit and Cunning – for me I loved this volume. What makes Dahl’s storytelling so skilled for me, is the ordinariness of the characters in many of his stories.
One of my favourite stories in all the volumes is Mrs Bixby and The Colonel’s Coat.
Mrs Bixby, frustrated by the mundanity of her life, and the apparent indifference of her Dentist husband, embarks on an affair with a man known as the Colonel. When he finally decides to end their relationship, he does so with a parting gift of a minx fur coat -something which Mrs Bixby is thrilled about. However, this now places her in a massive dilemma. She desperately wants to keep it, but how can she possibly bring it into the house she shares with her husband? After persuading a pawnbroker to take the coat, she convinces her husband that she has found the ticket and asks him to collect it for her. Of course, this being a Dahl short story, the parcel is collected, but there is a double twist in the tale.
What I loved about this one was the way in which Mrs Bixby is not bothered about the end of the affair, but is much more concerned that she keeps the coat she believes she deserves! When she gets her comeuppance, you can feel the anger and resentment burn off the pages…!
I thought that this was a very clever addition to the Roald Dahl short story collection. In this volume, Dahl in the opening chapter, tells us how he has personally chosen these stories as ones that inspired him in his writing. What I loved about this approach, was that this would be perfect as a stand alone volume for anyone wanting to read some extremely spooky stories, and even better to know that Dahl loved them too.
For me, it not only introduced me to superb writers I had never encountered before, but also gave me a real insight into what inspired Dahl to write in the way he did.
There were a number of stories I loved in this volume, which absolutely sent a shiver down my spine!
In Harry, by Rosemary Timperley, a young girl called Christine keeps talking to a boy named Harry. She is adopted, and believes her imaginary friend is her brother, Harry. Mrs James, her adoptive mother becomes increasingly concerned for Christine, and the story becomes darker and darker as it appears that Harry is starting to not only encroach on their lives, but may be far more present than they think…
I also loved The Telephone by Mary Treadgold. A young woman has an affair with a married man called Allen. Katherine, his wife discovers their relationship, and after the lovers flee to an isolated cottage in the Scottish Highlands, they learn that Katherine has died. Then, they start to receive phone calls, from the London number where Katherine was living – except that there should be no one there, and Allen seems to be talking to his dead wife….!
Fear, Innocence, Trickery and War are beautiful and thoughtful re-issues of Roald Dahl’s short stories. Not only do they look wonderful, they are the perfect addition for any Roald Dahl fan, or indeed for any person wanting to start to read his work and are not sure where to start.
As it is #RoaldDahlDay on Thursday 13th September, there has never been a better time to start your collection!
Thank you very much to Katie Ashworth at Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House for these stunning books. In exchange for an honest review and a chance to participate on the official Blog Tour.
The Roald Dahl Blog Tour has already featured these amazing bloggers, and follow the rest of the tour to see what they thought of these stunning books…