If you're familiar with the excellent children's books James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox or Matilda, you already know that Mr. Dahl is a great storyteller with a phantasmagorical mind. What you may not know is how sly, twisted, subtle and surprising he can be writing for adults. No Oompa-Loompas or flying peaches; rather ordinary looking folks doing ordinary things in ordinary settings, but with extraordinary results.
The compendium spans 1945 to 1986 and includes 25 stories ranging from seven to seventy two pages in length. The chronological layout makes it easy to see how the language, tone and feel of Dahl's stories evolve over time, moving from the crisp descriptions and dialogue of the post-war period to the more sinuous interactions and banter of his modern efforts. Throughout, the settings, characters, and plots are commonplace, but in each story there are hints of unreality or a far-fetched premise - something to make the reader a bit suspicious, but subtle like the very soft, suspenseful music that heightens the tension without drawing attention to itself in movies. Sometimes but not always the story concludes with a steep but controlled descent into the fantastic.
One of my favorites, The Landlady, gradually builds to its inevitable end, but it is done with such understatement that the final twists will undoubtedly cause readers to smile as they finish the story - not just at the result, but at how delicately it was woven together. Dahl assumes readers have have some intellect and can connect the dots, something all too rare today.
In fact, in many of Dahl's stories, the pleasure isn't in the twists themselves - though they are delightful - it is in the tight and natural prose, the evocative settings, and the human foibles of all of the characters. Short stories pose constraints not encountered by novelists, who can be forgiven the occasional diversion, sloppy passage, or loose end, and Dahl is more than up to the challenge. He should be enjoying he same literary recognition as Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, and Jorge Luis Borges, but sadly he's usually remembered just for his children's works. Start with The Landlady or Man From The South, and you will surely go on to read the other fine stories in The Best of Roald Dahl.
on August 2, 2003
Roald Dahl left a large body of work, much of which seems to be finding its way back into print in these years after his death. Good! For those acquainted only with his childrens' books, be warned: he had a sharp wit and he knew how to use it in adult fiction. My favorite short story? "Parson's Pleasure." Stunningly crafted, and timeless today in a world gone bonkers over antiques, Antiques Roadshows, and provenance.
on April 3, 2003
I am one of those people who had read many of Roald Dahl's works (from _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory_ to "Lamb to the Slaughter"), I never realized they were all by the same author. As I grew older, I fell in love all over again with Dahl's books for children, but when I stumbled across this collection, I bought it, more or less, blindly. I remember "Lamb to the Slaughter" being good, but I had not read any of the other works, nor did I know Dahl had so many collections of short stories for the more "mature" reader.
This collection is awesome. Being a fan of the O'Henry style story and the Shirley Jackson dark humor, I enjoyed myself tremendously going through each story. The writing is very clean and plot driven, so you can literally lose yourself in his stories the moment you begin them. The excerpt from _My Uncle Oswald_ called "The Visitor" is especially devilishly delicious.
Dahl is one of my favorite writers, and I feel that this collection bears very well on the legacy he left us.
on October 21, 2002
Perhaps Roald Dahl's greatest gift, as it is amply demonstrated by this collection of short stories, is his ability to captivate the reader from the very first line. I might be reading James and the Giant Peach aloud to my two little boys, or I might be hidden away for some grown-up time with this collection of his mercilessly biting satires; either way Dahl holds me captive with his carefully crafted prose and insightful, if murderous humor. As I read this book, I try to understand what keeps me coming back to Dahl time and time again. Perhaps it is because, although Dahl has an uncanny talent for writing about the worst in us, he still seems to love the bizarre individuals who people his books. The care with which he crafts each gem of a story in this collection shows that he can forgive his characters their multitudinous faults and see the unique charm and worth of each individual. In today's climate of judgementalism and prejudice, it does one good to find an author who seems to say that it is what is wrong with us that makes us interesting and worthwhile subjects. We are not all good, and sometimes it is better that way. At least we are entertaining, Dahl seems to say.
on July 29, 2002
I dont know Roald Dahl as a children's writer as I have read only his mature works.
His stories are similar in style to that of O Henry - in the sense there is an unexpected twist at the end. Dahl sure keeps the reader guessing in each of his stories about the end. The end is sometimes crude but its a reality that we all have to accept. Some of the best stories are The Hitch-hiker; The Great Switcheroo; Parson's pleasure. There are some very innovative stories like The Sound machine; Genesis and Catastrophe; The Taste etc. Henry Sugar's adventure is another wonderful story where he takes on the casinos. There are some very crude ones like "The Pig", but overall its really a good collection of short stories.
Such books are a wonderful read to kill time in a train or subway travel.
on June 18, 2002
If you liked The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, and Roald Dahl's other children's books . . . you'll hate this collection.
The short stories in this collection show Dahl's true literary brilliance. All are concise, entertaining, and witty. The majority of these stories also have a very dark side to them: from a man who bets with body parts, to a man whose skin is worth more than he is. Most of them would not appeal to the same audience that enjoys Dahl's children's books. Though some of the most gruesome points are implied and not openly discussed, you will be closing the book with a chill.
This is a collection of the author's best works, and some of the greatest short stories that have been written lately. They all provide a wonderful 10 minutes of entertainment, and have some very clever messages to go along with them. The stories are also studies in the perfection of the short story. Highly recommeded to absolutely everybody.
on May 4, 2002
Review, Roald Dahl
The best of Roald Dahl
review by Nate Barber
Many people know Roald Dahl from his famous books such as James and The Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda but it's in his collection of short stories we get to see his cynical and sometimes perverse voice seep through. This type of book is a special window to any authors work, as it is a collection of shorts and not one solid body of work the author is required by form to stretch their voice to match the different stories, especially if they're as diverse as Dahl's list.
That's not to say there isn't any familiar traits to Dahl's text. Throughout each short story (you find this best reading the work out loud) is a refined word choice, a deliberate construction of each story, and inherent of this is a sense of closeness between the work and the author. Roald Dahl leaves behind his trademark fary-tail sensibilities for stories such as Man From the South and The Sound Machine, delicate stories balancing between quaint and relaxing settings and characters to a chilled insane climax. Fingers are chopped with cigar tippers and flowers are murdered.
Contrast this with Parsons Pleasure, a sharp look into the dirty underbelly of antique collectors and the perverted routines they keep to make a find. Dahl's works with his breathless attention to detail allows him to leave scene at just the right moment, take a breath and ground the reader in a library where Henry Sugar finds a book that'll change his all too comfortable life. And seamlessly, Dahl picks it up where he left the action, but now the last scene's slightly evolved, or time passed to provide the story with a delicious sense of rocketing momentum. Roald Dahl likes to move things along whether we're paying attention or not, this will always suck readers as distracted as myself back to the page with something new, disgusting or touching or bordering on a psychotic meltdown, there's enough to gorge on the pages alone.
If you love the refined (spelled-with-a-'u') humour and BBC comedies frequent on public broadcasting networks, the otherworldly dimensions of Vonnegut and the twilight zone, the comic and useless violence of epics best represented by Night Of The Living Dead then, Dahl's your guy. Great for nightmares.
on April 11, 2002
It seems that most people know Dahl from his children's books, most notably those made into the popular movies Willy Wonka (Charlie) and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. And if you know those books (or most likely movies), you've already gotten a taste of the deliciously wicked imagination contained within.
Well, hold on to your seats because you ain't seen nothin' yet!
This collection of 25 short stories (written for adults) spans his career up to 1986 and contains some of the most tantalizingly evil ideas I have read in a long time. What fun it was to visit this mind in all its incarnations. From a seemingly sweet landlady, to a seemingly benevolent preacher, to a seemingly innocuous wager. That is the pattern. Things are not what they seem and Dahl makes sure to throw in a one-two punch of surprises within.
To use a Hollywoodism, I would say this is like O. Henry crossed with Stephen King. So, if you like your short stories with pepper, you can do no better than to visit the twisted world of Roald Dahl.
on September 26, 2001
I don't know Roald Dahl. I've never met the man. I've never read a personal interview of his and so I'm assuming his personality here when I say that this man must have been one retched, , nasty, unlikeable individual. And it is these traits that move both his children's fiction and short-story writing out of reach of the ordinary.
His books for children aren't very wholesome. No doubt this is why children, including myself, adored them and still do. The Witches was a frightfest on a par with The Silence of the Lambs. The Twits concerned a horrible pair of monsters and in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl conveniently destroyed four nasty children.
Still though, his children's writing will not prepare you for his short-stories. While their quality is inconsistent. There are some very good and some very dull. They all share an inherent dislike of humanity that is very refreshing. Personal favourites of mine in this collection are the tale about a greyhound scam and especially the story about how a father turns his son into a mutant bee.
His short stories are unpredictable but they are frighteningly enough set in a weird reality that narrows the fictionality of the stories. The stories are a lot creepier when they don't have the backing of a chocolate factory or a big friendly giant. Just a warning - read these stories, but remember to leave a lot of lights on.
on August 7, 2001
I would put Dahl in the same category as Poe, and say he's of the same caliber, too. He is the Hitchock of short stories. In fact, the leg of lamb story that another reviewer spoiled (I know s/he couldn't help it. How do you get accross Dahl's unique, twisted genius without giving people this example? I know I can't), was turned into an episode for the old black-and-white "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" series. Like that show and the more fantastical "Twilight Zone," Dahl knows how to suck you in at the beginning, keep you guessing through the middle, and finish it up with an unexpected punch to the gut. It's a shame he's never been as renown for his outstandingly clever, blackly comic adult works as he has been, rightfully so, for his kids stuff.
I borrowed my older sister's copy and read most of these stories when I was 13 or so. I'm 29 now, haven't read them since, but I still have vivid, fond memories of some of them. I'm about to order this for myself.
Also check out "My Uncle Oswald," a bizzare, bawdy, comic romp involving a lothario who has a scheme to get "the goods" from 51 real-life geniuses, freeze the product and store it in a sperm bank, with the intention of selling it for profit. This concept was a lot more novel when it was written, but is imaginative and entertaining nonetheless.
I read it at about the same time as the short srories and am not as sure it would hold up to a re-reading now.