Stephanie A. Higa's Reviews > The Best of Roald Dahl

The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
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Jun 22, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2012

It's true that nearly all writing reveals a great deal about the person behind the words, but it's especially true in Roald Dahl's case because all his stories have more or less the same tone: classy, stylish, and gruesome. This includes his children's stories, which are known for being playful and funny. Yes, they definitely are, but they're also kind of disturbing from an adult perspective. (James and the Giant Peach: orphan trapped by abusive aunts finds an escape in an oversized fruit occupied six anthropomorphic insects. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: nice poor kid wins a tour to a famous chocolate factory that employs green/orange workers who seem to have that "collective unconscious" thing going on, and is run by a maniac who concocts and executes special punishments--totally justified but also likely in violation of Department of Health standards--for the stupid, abominable children accompanying said nice kid on the tour. The Twits: an evil, disgusting married couple who abuse each other and the animals in their backyard get their comeuppance from the animals. The Witches: apparently there exist some women with malformed feet who prey on young children and transform them into mice.)

The stories in this volume are for adults, though, so they're not exactly the same as his children's offerings. Instead of wacky humor, Dahl gives us sleek twists. Instead of good little Charlie Bucket, he gives us three-dimensional nightmares, like glutton Augustus Gloop, all grown up, and Willy Wonka, if he hadn't dedicated his life to chocolate. (Willy Wonka IS a psychopath, okay. Don't listen to the movies.) With the exception of "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" (which, along with "The Hitchhiker," was deemed appropriate for the children's collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More) and "William and Mary," these stories are all realistic. That is: they're realistic in the sense that they could happen, but only with the help of unusually deranged and creative people. As in good science fiction, Dahl makes the highly improbable seem highly possible. His characters are out of this world, but their thoughts and actions adhere to a very human logic. That's what makes them fascinating and believable (although not what I'd call sympathetic).

Roald Dahl is a damn good writer. That clearly comes out in his character development, but even more so in his plots. He's a master storyteller. He doesn't rely on frills and backflips to get you to like him; he just is. His endings are surprising and unpredictable, but they also flow naturally from the actions leading up to them. His plots are excellent, with just the right amount of pacing and no excess showy nonsense. Dahl's stories read as if he's lived each of them himself, or at the very least thought them through a hundred times over. It's almost disturbing. (You know, come to think of it, Roald Dahl probably was Uncle Oswald with the brains of Willy Wonka. Just look at photos of him.)

My only beef with this volume is the chunk of "Claud's Dog" stories near the end. These were so boring that I kept looking for the catch. Are they told backwards? Is there some huge reveal about Gordon at the end? Why is Claud's dog hardly even present for most of these stories? Alas, nothing.

Highlights:
"Lamb to the Slaughter"
"Genesis and Catastrophe"
"The Visitor"
"The Great Switcheroo"
"The Hitchhiker" (so damn good I remembered it almost in its entirety from childhood)
"The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" (thought this was lame as a kid, but I was wrong)
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Mikael I love your comments. Dahl obviously was preoccupied with humiliation, suffering, orphans, loneliness and revenge. I also read in an article that he was adamantly anti-Semitic and in his later years obsessed with writing semi pornographic stories. All in all a great writer but a very sick and disturbed human being


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