Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Skin and Other Stories" by Roald Dahl

I first heard about this book from Elle at Media Molly. Roald Dahl with a dark side? I knew he had a gross side, and though Elle's description of this collection of stories as "strangely bizarre yet wildly entertaining" doesn't sound far off from what I know of Dahl, the phrase certainly piqued my interest.

Here is my brief note on each of the eleven stories.

Skin: This first one just doesn't pack the punch that it could have. It held more promise than it delivered.

Lamb to the Slaughter: clichéd. I had the vague feeling that I'd read this story once before, long ago. Or maybe I just read something very similar.

The Sound Machine: Made me think of one of my more unusual acquaintances who recently told me that, when you pull up a plant, it has a biochemical reaction that could be equated with pain or fear. I guess she didn't just pull that idea out of her butt.

An African Story: Do black mambas really get that big? (I looked it up. They do.) And why am I questioning that, rather than the idea of a snake suckling a cow?

Galloping Foxley: Talk about a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. All that buildup, then it ends with a little *blip*.

The Wish: Kind of reminds me of Silent Snow, Secret Snow. But not exactly.

The Surgeon: Unlike the usual short story, because it ends well (for everyone but the thieves, I suppose). On the other hand, I didn't expect it to, so that was nice.

Dip in the Pool: My favorite, due to the tension, the surprise and the resultant unfortunate ending. You know it's going to end badly; it's just a matter of finding out why.

The Champion of the World: Brings a new meaning to "chickens coming home to roost." I got a good laugh out of picturing the ridiculous situation at the end. And yes, this story is related to Danny.

Beware of the Dog: This one was excellent. Even if it was about war.

My Lady Love, My Dove: I thought I had this one pegged, but it took me by surprise once, and then again.

These stories are well-written and evocative, but this book seems to exist in a netherworld between adult and young adult fiction. It is not as stark and surprising as most short stories written for adults, but neither is it as safe and innocuous as most short stories for young adults. My verdict? No need to run to the bookstore for a copy, but if you find one lying in the gutter, you might as well dust it off and give it a chance.

13 comments:

Jayne said...

One of my favourite Roald Dahl books is called 'Over to You' and is a collection of short stories based on his experiences as a Second World War pilot. They are sad, poignant, odd little tales, and wonderfully written. If you see that around definitely do try it, and, from what you say above, I think I'll give 'Skin' a whirl if I see it. :)

Kathy said...

Here is something interesting: in the front of my copy of Skin, it says that two of these eleven stories also appeared in Over to You ("An African Story" and "Beware of the Dog")! So you've already read those two, anyway. Seven of the stories were used in another book called Someone Like You. One of the eleven first appeared in Playboy magazine . . . ! (And there aren't even any naked people in it.) ;)

Brenna said...

I had no idea that Dahl wrote anything for adults. He was my favorite author growing up - I feel like I should have known about this! Anyhow, I am kind of intrigued, but based on your review I won't be running out to find a copy.

Kathy said...

Brenna, I was exactly like you before I read Elle's post about Skin--didn't know Dahl wrote for adults, but felt like I should have! But here's something else interesting--the author bio in the back of this book says, "After establishing himself as a writer for adults, Roald Dahl began writing children's stories in 1960 . . . " --so not only did he write for adults, but he did that first!

You can see his list of works here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roald_Dahl#Adult_fiction

Looks like the majority of his writing for adults was in short story form, though there are 2 novels for adults listed (neither of which I'd heard of before).

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I read this book ages ago, and thought it was alright - not great, but not bad. Thought one of his other story collections was better: The Great Automatic Grammatizator and other stories.

Amy said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I hope you can find the Ru Freeman book - it was really different! Where are you located that your library doesn't have many books in English? Or is it just not a good library?

I do live in the Flemish part of Belgium, in the university city Leuven. Our public library has a really good collection of English novels; they do tend to be heavy on UK books, but I don't mind! The biggest selection of books is of course in Dutch, either originally Dutch novels from Flanders or the Netherlands. They also have an extensive selection of French novels and smaller collections of German, Spanish and Arabic books.

I read mainly in English, but also read in Dutch and French (the daily paper, magazines and the occasional novel). I hate reading novels translated into another language when I am able to read the original!

On a daily basis I use English and Dutch, but also speak French when I get a chance - every once in a while when I go to Brussels or trips to France.

I just noticed you also have a wine blog - how cool! Nothing better than a good glass of wine with a good book!

Whitney said...

I read Skin when I was a little younger and found it entertaining. Since I do have it on a shelf somewhere, I may revisit. Thanks for your thoughts.

thebookstop said...

I've read Tales of the Unexpected -- Dahl is so wonderfully creepy, just like his children's books but more twisted.

Kathy said...

Thanks for the comments!

Anothercookie--that's pretty much how I felt about it too. It's maybe a three-star book (if I did ratings)--neither great nor bad.

Amy--Your 2nd assumption was right--my local library isn't wonderful. I live in a small town (really I should be glad there is a library at all) and it seems like any time I am looking for a specific book--I'm talking classics here!--they don't have it.

Whitney--it will be interesting to hear what you think of the book at this point in your life--I mean, if your thoughts on it change with rereading now.

Bookstop--Dahl has more collections of short stories than I knew! I wonder if there are any overlaps between Skin and Tales?

Elle said...

Kathy, I am SO glad you enjoyed Dip in the Pool, it's also my favorite story in the book! Also, thanks for mentioning me in your post, I really appreciate it. :) I like the idea that the book balances between the teenage/adult audience, and children do read his more 'adult' (read 'darker') works.

I didn't like 'An African Story' much either - too weird, and the snake thing was a bit too disturbing.

Thanks for this wonderfully insightful review!

Kathy said...

Elle, I'm glad you pointed this book out to me. I really enjoy comparing thoughts on books like this--ones which haven't already been discussed to death.

There are some books on my TBR list that I really, really want to read (and I still plan to), but when every other blogger I know has already read and blogged about it, it almost seems like there's no point in mentioning it on my blog. Well, this book isn't like that! :)

Avid Reader said...

I'm a huge fan of Dahl and I love his adult work. He had a wicked sense of humor.

Kathy said...

Melissa, do you have a favorite of his (or favorites) you would recommend?