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Imagine my delight as I happened upon a Roald Dahl book I'd not read before, a collection of fifteen short stories written after the great man was injured during the second world war. Although bad for his army life that injury meant that he was transferred to a desk job where he saw out the war as assistant air attaché, it was here that Dahl got a taste for writing and after penning his first book - a series of stories recounting his time during the war - he turned his skills to other subjects and produced Someone like you.
The first story - "Taste" - follows an upper class dinner party that explodes into a battle of wills as two men try to out do each other with their skill and knowledge of wine. Inevitably a bet is made but the stakes rise far above what anyone might expect! In "Lamb to the Slaughter" a woman seemingly pulls off the perfect crime, with the police not seeming to notice what is under their noses and the murder weapon disappearing fast she cannot help but laugh. "Man from the South" again follows a gambling bent with a mysterious man wagering a stranger cannot strike his lighter ten times in succession, the lighter has never failed to light - but just how much is its owner willing to risk if he takes the bet?
A few stories on we come to one of my favourites; "A dip in the pool". Again the tale centres on a bet and the extraordinary lengths one man will go to make sure he wins. Unfortunately for him he seems to have picked the wrong woman to witness the piece de résistance of his cunning plan, something he realises just that little bit too late. "Galloping Foxley" builds on a story of bullying and revenge while "Skin" examines what would happen if a world famous artist had used a mans back as a canvas and a tattooists needle as his brush - it seems some art fanatics will go to any lengths to have an original painting from a long dead artist, no matter what the circumstances. The phrase "Watch your back" has never held such meaning.
"Poison" takes a clever look at the tricks the mind can play - when a man is convinced a poisonous snake has joined him in his bed and is using the warmth of his body to sleep. Doctors are scrambled and serum injected, but will it be enough? Sadly "The Wish" is the shortest of the stories at four pages, and unfortunately it seems a little pointless and has the feel of filler rather than anything more. Thankfully "Neck" puts the book back on track; Lord and Lady Turton enjoy hosting the most lavish of parties - or rather Lady Turton does while Lord Turton does as he is told! Matters come to a sudden and bloody climax when the Lady is caught in a compromising position with another guest.
Three more stories follow before the final anecdote is upon you. "Clauds' Dog" is actually four stories under that one heading, all loosely linked by the same characters and theme. That theme is dog racing and the first three parts lay the loose foundations for a strong finale, a finale which takes twist upon glorious twist before reaching an inevitable - if slightly sad - end.
"Someone Like You" is one of those books that make you warm inside, the majority of the stories are cleverly crafted with neat little twists and to keep you guessing until the last paragraph. It seems incredible that most of the stories were written over fifty years ago, the timeless feel means that each story is still relevant and the reader able to relate to characters and scenarios. There seems to be a few loose themes running through the book; whether Roald Dahl was a gambling man is unknown but at least half of the fifteen stories feature wagers, card games or other bet related issues. There also seems to be more than a little hostility towards the upper classes, with butlers or maids often coming to the rescue of their bumbling masters.
Although it pains me to mention any negatives when talking about a Dahl book there are one or two. The last story - "Clauds' Dog" is further split into four smaller stories and to me that seemed a little pointless, with a few name changes the stories would work far better as four stand alone narratives. Also "The Wish" is four pages of little more than nonsense, although I realise Roald Dahl usually does nonsense perfectly this just had the feel of a page filler rather than something the great man would actually be happy with.
That said I thoroughly enjoyed "Someone Like You" and devoured it in a couple of sittings. Each story averages about fifteen pages so would be an ideal introduction to Roald Dahl for young teens, who should enjoy the stories as much as adults. Anyone younger may still take pleasure in the simplistic nature of the tales and the way they flow, and they would be ideal for adults to read to youngsters from about the age of eight. Despite these stories being amongst the first Dahl wrote you can spot the patterns that would shape future classics - "Danny the Champion of the World" is merely an extended look at the upper classes verses the normal man, while "The Great Automatic Grammatizator" bares more than a passing resemblance to some of Willy Wonkas' more extreme inventions. A fine book which gets four stars out of five from this Dahl fan.
ISBN: - 0-14-003074-3
Published by Penguin
Typically around £5.59 in paperback
On the front of my edition of this book, it says 'stories for those with broad minds and nerves of steel'. I couldn't have described this collection of stories any better myself, so there it is. Born in Llandaff, near Cardiff, in 1916 to Norwegian parents, late writer Roald Dahl is probably best known at the present time for his children's books including 'The Twits', 'Fantastic Mr Fox' and 'The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar'. Many of his children's books have been transferred to the screen, including 'James and the Giant Peach', 'The Witches', and the recent 'Matilda'. However, his short stories aimed at adults should not be overlooked, as they contain some wonderful writing, and have the power to amuse as well as horrify. His other collections include Switch Bitch and Kiss Kiss - expect reviews in the future . . . 'Someone Like You' was first published in Penguin Books in 1970. Some of the stories it contains had previously appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and Collier's. 15 short tales are presented, the last one being almost a novella, split as it is into 4 distinct sections. On opening this book for the first time, almost all of the titles hold no clue as to what the content of each story might be. Examples of this include Skin, Poison, Nunc Dimittis and Neck. It is only once each story has been read and digested that the meaning of the title becomes crystal clear. So what do you get for your money? I shall tell you, in brief, and try not to let any cats out of bags as I do so . . . Well, there's the famous gourmet with a taste for fine wine - he certainly bites off more than he can chew . . . Then there's the leg of lamb that makes a very effective murder weapon. And the story of the Great Automatic Grammatizator, a machine created to write stories, thus dispensing with the need for human authors almost entir
ely. Or how about the tatooist who turns his own back into a work of art, with disastrous consequences. Not to mention the London portrait painter with the bizarre style, or the man who likes to bet with other people's little fingers. Oh yes, and the machine that can hear the cries of roses as they are cut, and also the bridge players with their own set of rules. I could go on, but I don't want to tell you too much - my advice is to buy or borrow this and read for yourself. When I say that these stories have the power to horrify, I do not mean that they are horror stories as in the genre of Stephen King or James Herbert. Perhaps horrify is too strong a word, maybe I'd should have said 'alarm'. No, I don't think that's quite it either. What I mean is that practically all of these stories will make you think. Some will undoubtedly make you squirm (Lamb to the Slaughter, Skin, The Wish), while others will make you laugh out loud, albeit in a disturbed sort of way (Neck, The Sound Machine), and still others will make you wish you'd not read them just before going to sleep (The Soldier, Claud's Dog - Rummins). But - all in all this is a wonderful, bizarre collection of stories, that I find myself coming back to again and again. They are very well-written - often in the first person - and are witty, descriptive, original, interesting, and above all entirely believable. Let me give you an example, from The Great Automatic Grammatizator: " 'There are many other little refinements too, Mr Bohlen. You'll see them all when you study the plans carefully. For example, there's one trick that nearly every writer uses, of inserting at least one long, obscure word into each story. This makes the reader think that the man is very wise and clever. So I have the machine do the same thing. There'll be a whole stack of long words stored away just for this purpose.' 'Where?' 'In the "word-memory" section,' he said, epexegetically. " See what I mean? Clever, isn't it? The stories are full of cunning little word-tricks like this, that you may miss on the first reading, but will almost certainly pick up on later and think to yourself 'A-ha! Now I see what you're getting at, Mr Dahl!' A firm favourite of mine, even though I still don't understand them all (if anyone can explain The Soldier to me I'd be very grateful, I've spent several sleepless nights pondering that particular enigma), I recommend this as a book that can be dipped into at will whenever you have a few minutes spare. As for the price - I'm afraid I don't know - mine says £1.95 but it is the 1984 edition and I bought it in a charity shop for 30p. I'd guess around a fiver, which is well worth it. I've just read this back to myself and I forgot to mention 'Claud's Dog - Mr Feasey'. If you ever wanted to know how to fix the result at greyhound racing, then its worth buying the book for these handy hints alone! Go fetch! moomin
A collection of short stories. In Taste, the stakes of a dinner-party bet reach distasteful heights; a wife serves up a new dish in Lamb to the Slaughter; and layers of deceit are stripped away in Nunc Dimittis.