While I’m not usually the biggest fan of short stories, there are always exceptions. And of course I was going to make one for Roald Dahl’s collection of short stories for adults – Tales of the Unexpected. Not only did they retain my interest that most short stories fail to do, but they also were sufficiently sinister and creepy to leave me with a tingling, ‘gooly’ feeling afterwards.
All of us who have read a single book in our lives have heard of Roald Dahl, beloved by children around the world. His children’s classics, particularly Matilda, The Witches and The BFG are heart-warming stories, all the more so when you learn that they frequently originated as bedtime stories for his children. Yet, even though they had lovely moral stories, and a fair dose of humour, they were also just a tad bit creepy. After reading Matilda, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches, you might think that ol’ Roald was a bit misogynistic. Not to mention that a headmistress that locks her students up in ‘the chokey’ is a bit more evil than the usual teacher-figure in children’s books.
Well. After reading Tales of the Unexpected, it is clear that while he was brilliant, Roald Dahl was a little bit evil. Which honestly, just makes him all that more fabulous. Each short story in Tales of the Unexpected, some fantastic, others highly realistic, had a sinister undertone throughout, something that as a reader I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but still made me feel a bit icky. While some were obvious, such as the man who wanted to chop off other people’s fingers as a bet, or the derelict whose skin was covered with the most valuable tattoo in the world, others not so much. However, what is so wonderful (yet creepy) were the twists in each of them.
While some endings were less of a surprise, this didn’t have the effect of lessening the story – rather the opposite in fact. Parson’s Pleasure, a story about a greedy antique collector who finds the ultimate prize, has a crescendo of foreboding that eventually leads to the heart-breaking ending; while I could foresee that something terrible was going to happen, I wasn’t 100% certain what. Or Mrs Bixby and The Colonel’s Coat: you know that Mrs Bixby is going to get done, yet you’re unsure how exactly it will occur. Tantalising stuff.
Aside from his marvellous storytelling, Roald Dahl is remarkable for his ability to change so completely from ‘beloved children’s author’ to ‘adult writer with a penchant for black humour’. It is a feat that not many authors have accomplished. While there are similarities between the two (in particular a love for a moral undertone), Dahl’s ability to create adult stories that are so absorbing, so sinister and so wicked is nothing short of wonderful.
Not to mention that without mentioning anything gruesome whatsoever, no blood or guts or screams, Dahl creates a series of short stories that are perhaps more stomach-turning than any horror book I’ve read recently. Perhaps take note, Bret Easton Ellis.
If you’re a fan of short stories, or perhaps even just a fan of the lovely Roald Dahl, then I wholeheartedly recommend Tales of the Unexpected. However, I don’t necessarily recommend reading them while partaking in lunch, and if you’ve recently had a fight with your spouse and you’re seeing red, then perhaps avoid Lamb to the Slaughter (recommended as a story idea to Dahl by the famous Ian Fleming).
Have you read Tales of the Unexpected or any other adult stories by Roald Dahl? What’s your favourite Roald Dahl book? Let me know!