For years and years and years and years and years and years (you are getting the picture I am sure) people have been saying to me that I “simply must read some of the adult short stories by Roald Dahl”. For years and years and years and years and years and years I have been ignoring them. Why? Well I am not too sure. As a child I absolutely loved his stories and so in some weird way I think I had assumed that any adult fiction he had written might have a childish edge to it, oh how I am kicking myself now. It was after an episode of the Readers where I was waffling on, as usual, about a story I read as a kid that freaked me out about a man living in a house smelling of almonds that I got an email from a listener telling me it was probably ‘The Landlady’ by Roald Dahl from his collection of short stories ‘Kiss Kiss’. I looked it up and saw it was a collection of dark, disturbing, macabre and haunting tales and whoops I had clicked and bought it. I am so, so pleased that I did.
‘Kiss Kiss’ is a collection of eleven of Roald Dahl’s tales, the only thing that really links them is that they are all really rather dark and have twists, some gory, some jaw drooping, some shocking, at the end that even if you loathe the main character will leave you wanting them not to get whatever awful comeuppance is coming to them, yes even when they might actually deserve it. What I wasn’t expecting, and what I really loved about them all, was just how dark they would be.
In a collection of eleven short stories you might, well if you are a bit of a cynic like me, expect there to be maybe one or two that you don’t like as much or ‘get’. I thought that pretty much every single story in ‘Kiss Kiss’ was a corker. Now I just have the mission of explaining why without giving anything away so that if you haven’t read them you will go and do so.
For me the best stories in the collection are the ones that I started reading with an initial sense of ‘hmmm this doesn’t seem new’. I won’t mention specific names as that might spoil them. There were tales, for example, starting with cheating wives, or doormat wives who lead meek lives under their husbands watchful gaze (which comes up in a few of the tales actually) yet what Dahl does is take these familiar tales or characters and completely turn them on their heads. I have discovered with a book or two this year is something I really enjoy and must find more books that do this for the wonderful surprise they give you.
I should really mention, before we go any further, the fact that after about three stories I had a strange feeling of déjà vu. I knew I had read ‘The Landlady’ at school in my first year of secondary school, and it was a memory of this tale that made me get the collection, and felt like ‘William and Mary’ was very familiar when an old school friend reminded me that we had in fact studied the lot. Somewhat understandably between the ages of eleven and almost thirty-one I had forgotten them all pretty much and so it was nice to have the twists still waiting for me and I could see why I would have loved them so much at that age as that sense of the macabre is clearly something I simply like and always have done. And what twisted endings these tales do have…
‘Pig’ left me feeling a little nauseous and also with my jaw placed firmly on the floor, simply never saw that coming. ‘Royal Jelly’ really surprised me with its twist, and oddly fascinated me with all the facts about bees Dahl threw in, and I was left wondering what happened next. I cheered for the comeuppance of some very naughty/underhand people in ‘Parson’s Pleasure’ and ‘The Way Up To Heaven’ despite how unpleasant it might have been.
I will admit that ‘Edward the Conqueror’ left me a little cold until the last paragraph, but that might have been the point though it seemed a lot of work for little reward unlike the others, and ‘The Champion of the World’ (which is indeed the original idea for the kids classic ‘Danny, The Champion of the World’) didn’t really set me racing through them like the others, but I did enjoy them.
I have to say in terms of favourites ‘The Landlady’ remains up there, even if it is not the very best tale, just for the nostalgic feeling and creeps it continues to give me in a slightly delicious way. I also thought that ‘Georgy Porgy’ (which is what we used to call a next door neighbour, now I know why) was one of the funniest tales and had a wry sense of humour that made me laugh out loud, and then giggle a lot. It was also another tale that made a joke of spinsters and men of the cloth which seemed a theme along with down trodden wives in this collection throughout. My very favourite though for the fact it is pure genius was ‘Genesis and Catastrophe – A True Story’; a tale of a woman whose babies all die but one survives and the twist blew my mind. Brilliant!
“The next day it was Miss Unwin. Now Miss Unwin happened to be a close friend of Miss Elphinstone’s and of Miss Prattley’s, and this of course should have been enough to make me very cautious. Yet who would have thought that she of all people, Miss Unwin, that quiet gentle little mouse who only a few weeks before had presented me with a new hassock exquisitely worked in needle point with her own hands, who would have thought that she would ever have taken a liberty with anyone? So when she asked me to accompany her down to the crypt to show her the Saxon murals, it never entered my head that there was devilry afoot. But there was.”
I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.
Who else has read ‘Kiss Kiss’ and what did you think? Which of his other collections or adult novels would you recommend I try next?