Anyone who’s been keeping up with this blog for the past year or so will know that I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl. Quite simply, I think he’s bloody marvellous. If you ask me, I think he’s responsible for some of the greatest works of children’s literature, some of which I’ve already reviewed, so I thought it was about time I branched into his rather more grown up territory.
Someone Like You is a collection of fifteen short stories: Taste; Lamb to the Slaughter; Man from the South; The Soldier; My Lady Love, My Dove; Dip in the Pool; Galloping Foxley; Skin; Poison; The Wish; Neck; The Sound Machine; Nunc Dimittis; The Great Automatic Grammatizator; Claud’s Dog, divided into four sections, The Ratcatcher, Rummins, Mr. Hoddy and Mr. Feasey. It’s a really interesting mix covering all different kinds of subjects and storylines. Some (Dip in the Pool, Lamb to the Slaughter) are really very funny, while others (Man From the South, Skin) are actually quite dark and macabre. It’s the classic Roald Dahl mix of humour mixed with a sense of the ghastly, and it appeals just as much in the big kids’ stories as it does in the little ones.
As with all short story collections, there are some that stick in the memory more than others. I think my absolute favourite story is Lamb to the Slaughter. When a heavily pregnant woman discovers her husband (a police detective) is leaving her for another woman, she kills him by whacking him over the head with a joint of frozen lamb. She then disposes of the murder weapon by roasting it and serving it to the investigating officers, who have therefore effectively eaten the evidence. It’s very comical and such a brilliant idea, I think it’s probably the story that I enjoyed most out of the whole collection.
Another extremely memorable story for more sinister reasons is Man from the South, where a man in Jamaica makes bets with holidaymakers over fairly trivial things, such as the number of times they can light a lighter first time. If they win, he gives them his car. If they lose, he chops off one of their fingers. It’s a story that made me feel rather anxious throughout because I’ve become an incredibly squeamish person in my old age, and it’s a bit hard to continue reading a story when you’re simultaneously trying to cover your eyes. Luckily there was quite an unexpected saviour and outcome but, even though I wasn’t really expecting any finger chopping to happen (or at least desperately hoping not), the ending did make me feel fairly squeamish and uncomfortable anyway.
One thing I really noticed about these short stories was the way that Roald Dahl steered them towards their conclusions. You might be forgiven for thinking that a lot of these stories lead towards predictable endings, but this is where Roald Dahl does something (either intentionally or unintentionally, I’m not really sure) that I think is actually rather clever. Sometimes, as in Galloping Foxley and Taste, I knew exactly the kind of ending and climax it was heading for, but then it veered off to some delightful twist at the last minute, and I felt completely fooled and satisfied. Other times, I knew exactly the kind of ending and climax it was heading for, and that is in fact exactly what I got. I had predicted the ending pages before, and yet I still felt completely fooled and satisfied because I was convinced until the last minute that there would be a twist; in a way, the lack of twist actually became the twist. I don’t know if this is a view that anyone else shares, because I’ve seen people complaining online that the stories were boring because they predicted the endings, or that the endings were left to the reader to discern (as in Skin, where we’re not specifically told what happened in all its grisly detail, but given enough clues to work it out for ourselves).
I will admit that a couple of stories in this collection were less than thrilling (The Wish for one, I can’t remember the slightest thing about it). But sometimes even stories that I’d class as ‘ordinary’ and, yes, ‘unexciting’ are the ones that stick in my mind (such as My Lady Love, My Dove, about a couple trying to beat another couple at bridge). That doesn’t mean that this isn’t a collection worth reading though. The joy about short stories is that you don’t have to invest masses of time into something that you might end up disliking. And even if you do dislike some, they’re such a varied and wide-ranging mix of ideas and themes that there really must be something for everyone. Plus I don’t believe for a minute that anyone could dislike Lamb to the Slaughter, so on that basis alone it must at least be worth a flick-through.
See previous Book Review featuring Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; read a review of another short story collection, Ian McEwan’s First Love, Last Rites; or read reviews of other works by Roald Dahl – Matilda, George’s Marvellous Medicine, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me.