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Collected Stories (Everyman's Library) by…

Collected Stories (Everyman's Library)

by Roald Dahl

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361530,087 (4.25)4
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(N. B.: The version of Roald Dahl’s Collected Stories I just read is the Everyman’s Library edition, with an Introduction by Jeremy Treglown. Before attempting to read this edition or even my review, you might want to read the Introduction – or at least Joyce Carol Oates’s 4/26/07 review [“The Art of Vengeance”] of the same in The New York Times Review of Books. I dare say either – or both – would tell you with much greater authority what to look for in this collection of stories.)

People often become a tad unsettled when they find themselves in the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist at a dinner or cocktail party. This, because they fear what they say – but more particularly, what they don’t say (i.e., their non-verbal communication) – may be under scrutiny and on-the-spot analysis. I would suggest, however, that those same people should be absolutely terrified to find themselves in the presence of Roald Dahl. The man simply had an unerring sense (not to mention powers of description) of his species – which made him (if we may assume that what many of his characters thought, said or did was not mere observation, but also personal conviction) an authentic misanthrope.

In the story “William and Mary,” a neurosurgeon by the name of ‘Landy’ says to William (whose brain Dr. Landy proposes to scoop out of William’s skull immediately upon his death, then re-connect to the equivalent of a mechanical heart in order to keep it alive – possibly also conscious – for an ill-defined period of posterity) when William suggests that his reconstituted memory might find him desirous of a return to his former life: “What, to this mess! Out of your comfortable basin and back into this madhouse!” Is it too much to assume that this was in fact Roald Dahl thinking out loud?

In “Parson’s Pleasure,” Dahl shows us just how manipulative the species (or at least his characters) can be: “He could become grave and charming for the aged, obsequious for the rich, sober for the godly, masterful for the weak, mischievous for the widow, arch and saucy for the spinster” (p. 489). In point of fact, Dahl’s characters become each of these things in the course of this collection of stories.

While “Georgie Porgie” and “Bitch” both demonstrate Dahl’s talent as a writer of surrealistic plot-lines, I don’t know that they one-up T. C. Boyle’s “Modern Love.” At the same time, I have to admit that both “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat” and “The Bookseller” rival some of the best of O. Henry’s short stories – and O. Henry, at least in my book, remains the consummate writer of short stories.

Joyce Carol Oates suggests on a couple or three occasions in her review that Roald Dahl is a bit of a misogynist. If we look at this quote from Gordon (one of the characters in his story “The Champion of the World”), I’d be tempted to concede the point: “I believe that all poachers react in roughly the same way as this on sighting game. They are like women who sight large emeralds in a jeweller’s window, the only difference being that the women are less dignified in the methods they employ later on to acquire the loot. Poacher’s arse is nothing to the punishment that a female is willing to endure” (p. 592). That point conceded, I’d suggest that Dahl writes more in the vein of a general misanthrope and cynic than in that of a misogynist.

It’s always risky to suggest that one particular story in an entire collection is indicative of a given writer’s best efforts; the odds are simply too great against there being “the greatest story ever told” by a given author (“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry being the only exception I can think of). That said, I’ll suggest two of Dahl’s that I think are most illustrative of his peculiar gift as a raconteur and cynic: “Pig” (pp. 614 – 634) and “The Last Act” (pp. 691 – 720). If you read no others, try these – which are, I believe, the ‘best of the best.’

Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Xmas gift from Dad
  MightyLeaf | May 25, 2010 |
At nearly 900 pages this book is a force to be reckoned with. And being as it's a collection of short stories, it's not meant to be read all at once. If you check it out from the library you may need to renew it once or twice. The stories are in chronological order. Most of the first ones are about flying, reflecting Dahl's experiences as a pilot in the RAF during World War II. The stories are of varying lengths, but all are of about the right size to read in bed at night before you fall asleep.

Dahl is mostly famous for his children's books and many people don't realize he was a superb and prolific short story writer as well. There are a few simply stunning pieces in here, and a few mediocre ones. A must-read for any Dahl fan. ( )
  meggyweg | Mar 6, 2009 |
If all you know of Roald Dahl is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and maybe one of his others (Matilda, Witches, James and the Giant Peach, &c.), I must recommend that you visit some of his short stories. I've just finished the Everyman's Library edition of his Collected Stories, and oh, what fun they are. Creepy fun, to be sure (I wasn't sure I would be able to continue reading them before bed after a few nights of incalculably strange dreams), but fun nonetheless.

The lesson of this volume is perseverance. The stories are arranged chronologically, and the first ten stories, written during the World War II years, all have to do in some form with aircraft combat or soldiers in exotic places. They're not awful, but they are barely comparable to what follows. Stick with it (or skip the first 150 pages). Beginning with the eleventh story, "Nunc Dimittis" (1947) and continuing clear through the very last in the volume, "The Surgeon" (1986), these pieces are Dahl at the very top of his game. Suspense, revenge, satire that bites like a steel trap, and a remarkable ability to hold the punch line and resolution until the very last paragraph, often the very last word.

Everybody gets it in the neck with Dahl - just when they think they've gotten away with something, fate's pendulum swings round and puts things to rights again. From the unscrupulous antiques dealer trying to pull the wool over the eyes of some country yokels ("Parson's Pleasure", which was absolutely painful to read) to the woman who thinks she's managed to create the perfect cover for an illicit acquisition ("Mrs Bixby and the Colonel's Coat") to the young man who belatedly and unfortunately discovers the pleasures of carnivorism ("Pig"), and so on, the bill always comes due.

It's hard to pick favorites from a volume like this, when so many of the stories are so deliciously good, so perfectly paced that the final blow often induces a slight wince for the victim (deserving or otherwise) of Dahl's final twist of the knife. A few particularly cringe-inducing or really absorbing pieces, other than those mentioned in the preceding paragraph, include "Vengeance is Mine Inc." (utterly hilarious), "Taste," "Lamb to the Slaughter" (brilliant), "A Dip in the Pool" (in which our main character is too smart by half) "The Hitchhiker" (delightful) and "The Bookseller" (which is, quite simply, perfect).

A very nice volume, well collected and ably introduced by Jeremy Treglown.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2009/01/book-review-dahl-collected-stories.html ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 11, 2009 |
I've always loved Roald Dahl's children's books with their bizarre characters and absurd situations. I had high hopes then, when I began his adult stories.

I was disappointed for the first 150 pages or so. The early stories were a disappointing chain of World War II fighter pilot stories that read like bad Hemingway. Once I got past them though, things improved dramatically. Dahl's non-WWII tales are clever and dark, and he builds suspense beautifully. His stories twist and turn in ways you think you can predict but never quite can. If you're looking for the crazy, imaginative abandon of his children's stories, you won't quite find it here. You will however, find stories that are worth reading.
  asteffmann | Mar 11, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
I’d read his tales before; but I was happy to read them again. I was glad to be affected by them, and troubled by them; glad to recall my childhood discovery of this writer. Difficult, strange, enchanting, yes — and bloody tremendous, terrific, fantastic too.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307264904, Hardcover)

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

The only hardcover edition of Roald Dahl’s stories for adults, the Collected Stories amply showcases his singular gifts as a fabulist and a born storyteller.

Later known for his immortal children’s books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG, Dahl also had a genius for adult short fiction, which he wrote throughout his life. Whether fictionalizing his dramatic exploits as a Royal Air Force pilot during World War II or concocting the ingeniously plotted fables that were dramatized on television as Tales of the Unexpected, Dahl was brilliant at provoking in his readers the overwhelming desire to know what happens next—and at satisfying that desire in ways that feel both surprising and inevitable.

Filled with devilish plot twists, his tales display a tantalizing blend of macabre humor and the absurdly grotesque. From “The Landlady,” about an unusual boardinghouse that features a small but very permanent clientele, to “Pig,” a brutally funny look at vegetarianism, to “Man from the South,” in which a fanatical gambler does his betting with hammer, nails, and a butcher’s knife, Dahl’s creations amuse and shock us in equal measure, gleefully reminding us of what might lurk beneath the surface of the ordinary.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A definitive compilation of short fiction for adults from the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other childrens classics blends the macabre with humor and the grotesque in such works as The Landlady, set in an unusual boardinghouse with two small, permanent clientele; Pig, a study of vegetarianism; and Man from the South.… (more)

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