Newest Review: ... back in this third offering, an unfulfilled promise that ultimately only makes it more disappointing in the end. The narration switches to ... more
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My Uncle Oswald - Roald Dahl
Member Name: Frankingsteins
My Uncle Oswald - Roald Dahl
Advantages: Whimsical and unexpectedly adult romp (or rather, series of romps) from the beloved author.
Disadvantages: Overlong, over-repetitive and overall a fairly disappointing change of pace.
The book begins with a confusing and rather pointless chapter of introduction from the author, whether this is intended to be Dahl himself or simply a fictional, otherwise unseen character, and is correctly identified as the third publication of ‘his uncle’s memoirs’ following Dahl’s earlier short stories ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Bitch’ from the ‘Switch Bitch’ collection. Although I haven’t read those, this opening chapter indicates, most likely as a joke, that their raunchiness no doubt represented the most conservative and chaste sections available from his uncle’s diaries, and he promises not to hold anything back in this third offering, an unfulfilled promise that ultimately only makes it more disappointing in the end. The narration switches to Oswald from chapter two and continues through the rest of the two-hundred-plus pages, though it has to be said that it loses the sense of a memoir after a while, reading like just another novel told in the first person. Dahl’s cheery writing style is easy to follow and enjoy, and he has a knack for ending chapters on a comparatively exciting note, but the story’s main problem is that it really does drag by the end and becomes very repetitive, something the narrator even draws attention to, but fails to remedy.
The plot concerns Oswald’s early years as a young entrepreneur before and after the First World War, learning from his father’s well-travelled friend the secret of the Sudanese Blister Beetle and its powerful effect on the human sex drive. Using intelligence, care and cunning, the seventeen-year-old Oswald pays a trip to the Sudan to buy a crate of this legendary aphrodisiac, and applies his scientific knowledge and keen business sense to manufacture it in pill form, ready to sell to the rich and desperate. This first section of the book is largely a prelude and works very well in setting up the situation and character of Oswald, a young man who enjoys the finer things in life and lives by strict, self-imposed moral guidelines: firstly, he is adamant that he must be supremely wealthy to be truly happy, but insists that this wealth can only be accrued through means that he finds enjoyable, and that bring pleasure to his customers. Secondly, more importantly, he must have an enormous amount of sex, and can never sleep with the same girl twice; he compares the very idea to the disappointment of “reading a detective novel twice over.” Oswald really is a sexual connoisseur (though he limits himself to female homo sapiens), learning the intricacies and distinct stylings of women from different nationalities and backgrounds, and even basing his preferred choice of music on the more debauched scenes of operas due to their associations. The rest of the book focuses entirely on Oswald’s plan, based on the breakthroughs of his old University professor in artificial cattle insemination, to obtain and preserve the sperm of famous people for later sale to rich women desperate to have a child by Einstein, Picasso, Proust or King Alfonso of Spain, among many others.
Joining Oswald as a travelling companion and business associate for the second half of the book is the alluring Yasmin Howcomely, who agrees to take part in Oswald’s hare-brained scheme primarily for the enjoyment it would bring, stating that she was looking forward to being ravished by kings and artists. Obviously, this makes the book a little questionable in terms of its attitude towards women, and even an attempt to discredit Sigmund Freud’s famously phallocentric approach during Yasmin’s session with the Austrian doesn’t really work as an apology. It’s easy to treat this novel as harmless fun, though it does tend to ground itself a little too much in believable (and perhaps workable) science that even its slightly more ludicrous or exaggerated moments lack any of the fantastical nature of Dahl’s more famous works. One very strange aspect of the book is its unflattering parade of famous figures from the early twentieth century, some of whom come off better than others (Yasmin is particularly complimentary about the sexual practices and impressive size of writers, composers and artists, but isn’t so fond of intellectuals), but all of whom are presented losing their inhibitions and assaulting a woman, admittedly under the influence of Oswald’s beetle powder sneakily inserted into a chocolate. While this may please or indeed enrage fans of the many famous persons involved, the issues of libel make the whole thing pretty dodgy for being so grounded in reality.
‘My Uncle Oswald’ sticks out like a beetle-bitten pizzle in the bibliography of one of the country’s favourite children’s authors, and while it’s a fairly enjoyable read for the most part, it does unfortunately serve to demonstrate that Dahl didn’t really have the knack for making realistic adult stories as entertaining as his children’s fiction. The scheme is suitably zany to maintain interest for a while, but it drags on for far too long and becomes overly repetitive, and the author even makes a very disappointing decision by off-handedly spoiling the ending about half-way through with a mention that there are a number of Proust-descended children currently growing up across Europe as he writes this, thereby removing the doubt that this risky scheme would eventually succeed. The slight twist that does transpire at the end is minor by comparison, and not really worth wading through the long string of vague sexual encounters to reach.
If you enjoyed Roald Dahl’s children’s books in your youth and are interested in reading something similar now you’re grown up – well, don’t really bother with this, just dig out your battered copy of ‘The Witches’ and read it again, you’ve probably forgotten what happens. There are a few creatures that should never have been permitted into Roald Dahl’s literary menagerie, and spermatozoa are one of them. At least they don’t talk.
Summary: Roald Dahl's second and final adult novel (1979).