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Adventures in the Skin Trade

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This collection of the poet Dylan Thomas's fiction––and what an extraordinary storyteller he was!––holds special interest because it ranges from the early stories such as "The School for Witches" and "The Burning Baby," with their powerful inheritance of Welsh mythology and wild imagination, to the chapters he completed before his death of the alas unfinished novel Adventures in the Skin Trade. Adventures is the story, written in a shrewd, sly, deadpan vein of picaresque comedy, of young Samuel Bennet, who runs away from his home in Wales to seek his fortune in London. 

178 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1955

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About the author

Dylan Thomas

232 books1,225 followers
Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953) was a Welsh poet who wrote in English. Many regard him as one of the 20th century's most influential poets.

In addition to poetry, Thomas wrote short stories and scripts for film and radio, with the latter frequently performed by Thomas himself. His public readings, particularly in America, won him great acclaim; his booming, at times, ostentatious voice, with a subtle Welsh lilt, became almost as famous as his works. His best-known work includes the "play for voices" Under Milk Wood and the celebrated villanelle for his dying father, "Do not go gentle into that good night." Appreciative critics have also noted the superb craftsmanship and compression of poems such as "In my craft or sullen art" and the rhapsodic lyricism of Fern Hill.

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5 stars
192 (27%)
4 stars
243 (34%)
3 stars
182 (26%)
2 stars
69 (9%)
1 star
10 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews
Profile Image for Greg.
1,107 reviews1,829 followers
June 26, 2008
Me feel dumb reading stories in book. Me do not like feeling dumb, so me give book two stars... The book begins and ends with stories that are very absurdly British. They could have possibly shown up somewhere in Waugh, or maybe K. Amis early body of work. They could have also shown up in something later like B.S. Johnson and not felt out of place. They were good like that. All of the filer stories though I couldn't make heads of tails of. I think not being Welsh added to my confusion. They all take place near something called Jarvis, they have characters that are in multiple stories. Sometimes these characters are dead sometimes they aren't, or maybe they aren't dead or aren't alive. I don't know. They are very poetic, but poetic but a teenager with a great lyrical grasp and excellent imagery but who lives to throw dirty dirty things in when he feels action should be happening (or is it happening?). I don't know what the hell's going on actually in any of these stories, except there may or may not be dead people, and witches and illicit fucking. Or maybe not. I don't get it, and I felt like I was reading just to get done with the book, but I'm sure it's just my dumbness.
Profile Image for James.
167 reviews7 followers
March 7, 2017
one of the best memories of my life is waking up on a strangers couch, finding this in a second hand book store, and spending the rest of the day lying on the grass with a bag of grapefruits, reading this in the sunshine
Profile Image for Cailin Deery.
356 reviews27 followers
March 26, 2012
Dylan’s idea is that you shed skins as you pass into new stages, and it’s only when you look back that you realize you’ve shed a skin. Although it’s unfinished, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the story of one skin in the process of molting.

So, ‘Adventures in the Skin Trade’ is Dylan Thomas’ unfinished novel – his foray into prose – which is a wonderful glimpse into his lovely, coarse sense of humor. The first story of the collection (the unfinished novel) reminds me of ‘a Confederacy of Dunces’ for its unconventionality and absurdity. The characters artlessly and immediately behave as they would with the people most familiar to them. I wish it were more common to encounter such vulnerability.

Later stories are moments in time, dreamlike for their improbability, and there’s a generous application of allegory throughout. ‘Enemies’ may be my favorite for its festering wilderness, living earth, sinister animation, fright, omens and darkness of the unknown. The collection of ‘Enemies,’ ‘The Visitor,’ ‘The Lemon,’ and ‘the Burning Baby’ very much reminded me of ‘Outer Dark.’ You have incest, premonition, themes of dystopia and more Biblical allegory than you’ll know what to do with.

‘The Visitor’ has the atmosphere of a Malick film with a focus on the life unseen in hard scrabble and empty fields. It reads like a distillation of Tree of Life.
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,320 reviews2,196 followers
March 4, 2021

Much prefer Thomas the poet, but I sometimes forget that he was also an impressive short story writer too.

Faves here were—

The Visitor
The Orchards
The Horse's Ha
A Prospect of the Sea
Prologue to an Adventure
The Followers

Profile Image for Lukáš Palán.
Author 10 books213 followers
April 11, 2019
Ddiwrnod da.

To je velšsky dobrý den. A rhyw rhefrol je anální sex. Není divu, že Dylanovi Thomasovi z tohoto jazyka vybuchlo v makovici a psal takovoudle halucinogenní prózu. V téhle náloži, která vyšla u Rubata, zaujme a pobaví hlavně první třetina, ve které je něco jako děj a hlavní hrdina má na prstu naraženou flašku. To znám. Já ji mám pořád naraženou na držce. Poté následují kratší povídky, kterou jsou většinou tak ezoterický, že bejt to delší, tak se změním v blatouch. Nicméně i v těchto lyrických flákách Dylan Tomáš vykouzlí nějakou tu zajímavou kombinaci slov a za to mu uděluji 7,82 bodů z 10.
January 17, 2009
You'll either love it or hate it. It will prove a satisfying journey for those who recognize and appreciate the piercing beauty of dischordance when achieved with plan and purpose. This collection contains two of the most unsettling and lovely pieces of short fiction I've ever read. If you like the conventional - linear, literal fiction that does not leave you changed in some way - then you can safely assume this book will not be on your list of favorites.
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 1 book19 followers
August 31, 2018
I had the feeling, the entire time I was reading this collection, of having my head underwater while someone tries to tell me a story: I can make out the general gist, and some things sound really interesting and different from what I would expect, but really I am never quite sure I know what the other person is saying, and no matter how many times I ask them to repeat it, it's always going to be just as hard to make out.
That being said, there were about three-quarters of these stories that I was really into. Thomas's four themes here: sex, witchcraft (nature), Catholicism (anti-nature), and drinking, happen to be some of my favorite subjects. Thomas also writes with both a sense of humor and a dark, grim sense of reality, even in some of the more absurd of the stories (the title story, for sure).
Overall, a great collection, with one or two clunky experiments that I didn't feel worked as well. Challenging, but worthwhile.
Profile Image for Tom.
19 reviews
March 18, 2014
This book emphasizes just how ahead of his time Dylan Thomas was. His zany poetic narrative descriptions of the settings, the people, and their social interactions in this book is still in my opinion being mimicked today, probably accidently or sub consciously by many authors. Unaware of where it all started. Despite its age there something still very fresh about it. The frustrating thing is that its an incomplete piece of work, and for that reason, it feels like you are just getting a glimpse of something that could have been so much more. For me it felt a bit like I had been reading an extract from a novel when it was all over.
Profile Image for Bas.
221 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2023
Enigszins bizar verhaal waarin de hoofdpersoon het ouderlijk huis verlaat en in Londen het avontuur zoekt. Mix van novelle en koortsdroom.
Profile Image for David.
510 reviews4 followers
February 16, 2019
I was unprepared.

The title story and unfinished novel is a picaresque about a young man who leaves home and moves to London looking for a woman he has the barest connection to. His adventures are fairly absurd and non-sensical. The other characters are cartoonish and bizarre, though the author manages to capture the simultaneous feelings of uncertainty and invincibility you feel as a young man of privilege entering society.

The rest of the stories are dark and Weird. Thomas taps into the tradition of macabre supernatural fantasy. Some of the stories are Dunsanian in their dreamy fairy tale atmosphere, but decidedly more sinister. In "The Enemies", we meet a mysterious couple living in a remote valley, who are maybe witches.

While the tone of many of the stories reminded me of Algernon Blackwood or H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas touches more on pure horror. I skimmed over a few dull ones, but there were a number of dark gems. In "The Lemon" we are treated to a psychotic surgeon, and in "The Burning Baby" we have supernaturally motivated incest, a murderous changeling, and a baby is literally burnt. In "The School for Witches" we are treated to a demonic birth (and some lines seem to have made it into the song "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None The Richer).
2 reviews
July 12, 2017
This is a book that I will be returning to again and again: it contains within each dense sentence an endlessly evolving experience of demiurgical vision that cannot be fully digested in a single reading. Within these stories the transcendent word is a buried treasure; abounding symbols map the way; ancient stories echo through the pages and new myths are born through the resonance. Like the narrator of these stories, the reader must continually search for the elusive meaning of the experience with the eyes of a dream; and once found, the experience must be translated and reinvented in the conscious mind.
232 reviews12 followers
September 21, 2007
Great title and opening line: "... only one person was awake in the street, and he was the quietest." No coincidence that the main character's called Samuel Bennett as it reads very like a Samuel Beckett. Just a fragment of a novel, he never finished it. The kind of book that academics find hilarious, but only raises the odd wry smile in most everyone else. Nice language, but I'm getting a bit sick of reading books that are heavy on description and light on story...
Profile Image for Merciful.
78 reviews5 followers
February 20, 2012
Having recently re-read Thomas's brilliantly evocative short story, The Dress, about an escaped lunatic pursued through the Welsh countryside at night, I realized I was long overdue to return to this entire collection. Highly recommended.
December 27, 2016
I had a hard time rating this one. The content is 3 stars, the delivery is five stars. This compilation of short stories reads like a series of poetic dreams. Imagery is vivid, evocative and rich. Plot lines are nearly non-existent.
Profile Image for Geoff Balme.
195 reviews2 followers
December 7, 2018
Ghoulish, hilarious, mundane, magical, and at turns impenetrable. A dour world of witches and weirdness galore as well as a few regular nobodies just wandering aimlessly in the rain looking in windows for entertainment.
There’s nothing quite like it.
73 reviews
March 3, 2009
Didn't get it. Couldn't follow it. Didn't understand it. I was so glad to finish it.
Profile Image for Roberto M.
47 reviews1 follower
January 2, 2018
Le parole dei racconti scorrono fluenti come rivoli d'acqua che s'insinuano in ogni anfratto e dopo un attimo sono stati sostituiti da altra acqua. Come se niente fosse realmente importante ma sempre vissuto come fosse quanto di più importante. E il reale e l'immaginario vivono delle stesse parole che li evocano.
Interessantissima la testimonianza, riportata in prefazione, dell'amico Vernon Watkins che illustra le intenzioni di Thomas dietro il progetto narrativo incompiuto: "Il personaggio centrale, Samuel Bennet, avrebbe dovuto finire in ogni sorta di avventure proprio a causa della sua quieta passività e della sua tendenza innata ad accettare qualsiasi situazione. Era un personaggio che accettava la vita in ogni suo aspetto, come un bambino che fosse divenuto libero e padrone di sé stesso. Non avrebbe avuto denaro, effetti personali, bagagli di vestiti; sarebbe stato libero dai pregiudizi della civiltà. E la vita gli si sarebbe fatta incontro. La gente gli si sarebbe fatta incontro, e gli avrebbe portato la vita. Sarebbe stata gente strana, molto strana. Ma chiunque venisse, qualunque fosse stata la situazione, lui avrebbe proseguito. Poi, a un certo punto, un momento imprevedibile, si sarebbe guardato alle spalle e avrebbe scoperto di aver cambiato pelle. Nel progetto originale di Dylan, per quel che posso ricordare, ci dovevano essere sette pelli. Alla fine del racconto il protagonista sarebbe rimasto nudo."


Polly si chinò sulla mano di Samuel e lui le guardò dentro la scollatura. Lei se ne accorse, ma non si raddrizzò né si mise una mano sul vestito; alzò la testa e lo fissò negli occhi. Mi ricorderò sempre di questo, egli si disse. Nel 1933 una ragazza stava cercando di togliermi una bottiglia dal mignolo della mano sinistra mentre io le guardavo dentro la scoillatura. Durerà più a lungo di tutte le mie poesie e tutti i miei guai.
Samuel si stropicciò gli occhi per scacciare la notte e vide gli uomini neri ballare con le loro donne, farle volteggiare tra verdi sedie di vimini, tra il distributore di frutta e il bigliardo. Alcune delle donne erano bianche, e ballando fumavano e scrutavano la stanza, senza accorgersi di ballare, come se le braccia che le circondavano fossero attorno alla vita di altre donne: i loro occhi erano per gli estranei che entravano, e facevano i serrati movimenti della danza come donne nell'atto dell'amore, guardando al di sopra delle spalle degli uomini le proprie facce remote e impassibili in uno specchio. gli uomini erano tutti denti e sedere, con la vita stretta e le spalle larghe, in doppiopetti rigate e scarpe lucidissime, tutti senza età e senza rughe, vogliosi di bella vita, orgogliosi, silenziosi e cordiali e affamati. Si dimenavano in quella cantina fumosa sotto il centro del mondo, alla musica di un tamburo e un pianoforte suonati da due pallidi ragazzi bianchi che muovevavno continuamente le labbra. Mentre George Ring guidava Samuel in mezzo ai ballerini in direzione del bar passarono accanto a una macchina e Samuel ci mise dentro un penny per avere un limone. Ne uscirono uno scellino e sei pence.
Profile Image for Ostap Bender.
929 reviews12 followers
September 8, 2021
I really wish Dylan Thomas had finished the title story to this collection, Adventures in the Skin Trade. It really shows him at his best, with elements of comedic inner dialogue (ala Joyce), absurdity (Kafka), adventurousness (Kerouac), and coming of age existentialism (Salinger), all flowing effortlessly. He started it before WWII and never got back to it afterwards, but it was enjoyable despite that.

Unfortunately in many of the other short stories here, he gets into too much religious allegory and apocalyptic visions, and his poetic, dream-like style is overdone, rendering his prose somewhat opaque.

4.5 stars to Adventures in the Skin Trade which starts the collection.
4.5 stars to The Followers which ends the collection, though I had read this before separately.
4 stars each to After the Fair and The True Story, which are the second and second to last stories.
Yikes on the other 17 stories, all generally 5-10 pages long.

Quotes; just this one on memory:
“Polly bent over Samuel’s hand and he saw down her dress. She knew that he was looking, but she did not start back or spread her hand across the neck of her dress; she raised her head and stared at his eyes. I shall always remember this, he said to himself. In 1933 a girl was pulling at a bottle on the little finger of my left hand while I looked down her dress. It will last longer than all my poems and troubles.
‘I can’t get it off,’ she said.
‘Take him up to the bathroom then and put some soap on it,’ said Mrs. Dacey, in her dry, neat voice. ‘And mind it’s only his bottle.’”
Profile Image for denudatio_pulpae.
1,301 reviews20 followers
November 16, 2019
"Płoń, dziecię, nędzne ciało, marne ciało, ciało, ciało, chore, smutne ciało, ciało nieczystego łona, spal się znów na popiół [...]. I niemowlę zajęło się ogniem."

"Szkoła czarownic" to opowiadania z mrocznym, niepokojącym klimatem, jednak nie sugerujcie się cytatem, który wybrałam - jakoś przesadnie obrzydliwie, plugawie i potwornie nie będzie. Powieść gotycka z dobrodziejstwem inwentarza to też nie ten kierunek. Historie te bardziej przypominają ludowe legendy, pełne są jednak niedomówień, symboli, surrealizmu, często brakuje im wyraźnego zakończenia. Zamiast koszmarnej grozy poczujemy raczej subtelną magię, siłę natury i mistyczny cykl istnienia, a wszystko to doprawione szczyptą zła.

Styl w jakim są napisane te historie wymaga od czytelnika chwili spokoju i ciągłego sporego skupienia. Pierwsze opowiadania podobały mi się bardzo, chyba najbardziej to pt. "Drzewo". Później, szczególnie po opowiadaniu "Płonące dziecko", z którego jest wybrany przeze mnie cytat, było odrobinę słabiej. Pod koniec jednak znów znalazło się kilka lepszych historii, oczywiście w mojej opinii. Szczególnie tytułowe opowiadanie "Szkoła czarownic" oraz "Stanik od sukni" przypadły mi do gustu.
Profile Image for Andrew David.
270 reviews4 followers
August 31, 2018
"Image! All image!" exclaims an AitST character, as if in dutiful summary of these beautiful plotless stories // evasive, lyrical, dreamlike // drinking, vague sex and/or illusive metaphors that compare writing to sex, weird dreams // 3.0: 1.0, 3.6, 1.3, 2.8, 5.0, 4.0 // I purchased this at a used bookstore after finding it as part of a book scavenger hunt that I was playing with my wife; I was intrigued by the handwritten inscription on the inside front cover: "If you light a fire for a man, he's warm for a day. If you light a man on fire, he's warm for the rest of his life." It took me at least a year to finish the book, so I can't say for certain whether these lines actually originate with Dylan Thomas--the sentiment seems Thomasy and fire seems to spread through many of these stories, yet I can't recall Thomas saying anything quite so directly.

1 review
May 31, 2022
I read this book many many years ago, yet it came back to me forcefully when I set out to write my own autobiography.
How well does a young man do when he burns his sisters love letters, shatters his mother's precious china and boards the first train in, while they still sleep?
I'm glad Thomas didn't finish the book. Maybe he never intended to.

Living and rolling with the unknown is a powerful choice. How else can one lift oneself above the dross, the glitz and reliance on what is always temporary and already in decay before we reach for it.

Maybe, it is not until one looks back and sees how little it was all about, that he steps inside Thomas' moccasins and wishes, if only I'd been braver.
Profile Image for Persephone Abbott.
Author 2 books15 followers
August 21, 2022
I mean it is plain as the cute nose on Moses' baby face. For God's sake, give him a bottle. Thomas is obviously a poet who could tell a story and finely. The youthful anxiety having a tantrum in the china closet, touring the world in a train station, survival menaced by the furnishings of all of society, the innocence of nursery rhymes in a bar and in a taxi and in a bar and the hooting songs of pastures transported to cellars in the drunken city and I wonder where it would have gone next. And that's okay, besides Dylan Thomas recorded the chapters and these are to be found on YouTube.
Profile Image for Gareth Williams.
Author 2 books16 followers
November 10, 2022
A pleasure to find something else by the wonderfully talented and dead too soon, Dylan Thomas. It may only be a fragment of a novel but there are enough turns of phrase to keep a fan happy. characters abound as always, with Thomas populating his first hours in London with the kind of improbable people he saw everywhere.
Having burnt his bridges at home he drifts into a London life far removed from his life at home in Wales, and yet, albeit through the avatar of his main character, he remains the at odds, awkward, diffident yet determined drifting layabout poet!
295 reviews15 followers
August 5, 2018
This is a country-boy-goes-to-the-city story. At the station Samuel got his finger stuck in a beer bottle which he carried around d with him for the rest of the story. He also met some distinctly odd people and was introduced to the seamier side of London.
Thomas had an amazing facility with language and this little book was no exception. We definitely get into Samuel's head as he first experienced the big city and allowed it to absorb him.
Profile Image for Josh Berthume.
76 reviews2 followers
March 20, 2023
If the horror in Lovecraft came from the Old Testament instead of the eldritch cosmos, and then was written as a team effort by E B White and Neil Gaiman, you’d end up somewhere near the neighborhood of this collection of Dylan Thomas’ prose.

It is weird in here, and well-built. The language has that tell-tale liquid-beauty quality in the imagery that you get when a great poet decides to slum it in prose for a bit.
Profile Image for Kate Mcphail.
320 reviews
September 4, 2018
There were so many excited 'wtf am I reading?' moments during this book. Very odd, very angular, very poetic (imagine that). Not cohesive but stunningly punctuated with some of the most descriptive and off-the-wall sentences I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The best $1 I ever spent on a used book.
Profile Image for Lou Last.
225 reviews43 followers
May 29, 2021

Stepping on a dead twig, he was bitten.

There was nothing in his dream but her tired face. And the changes of the details of the dream and the celestial changes, the levers of the trees and the toothed twigs, these were the mechanisms of her delirium. It was not the sickness of sin that was upon her face. Rather it was the sickness of never having sinned and of never having done well.

Profile Image for Jon.
8 reviews
August 31, 2018
'adventures in the skin trade', what was completed, was brilliantly written and quite enjoyed. a shame he only finishes so little of it.

the other stores included were hit and miss. it's because of them the rating was so low..
728 reviews83 followers
December 21, 2019
I think Thomas picked it's name to get people to read his book and provocative discussions or maybe a ban. The first and last stories are the best. The rest seem to be side pieces to Under Milk Wood.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews

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