Kiss Kiss – Roald Dahl

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.

Penguin Books, paperback, 1960 (2011 edition), fiction, short stories, 303 pages, from my own personal TBR pile

‘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?


Filed under Books of 2012, Penguin Books, Review, Roald Dahl, Short Stories

25 responses to “Kiss Kiss – Roald Dahl

  1. I read some of his short stories for adults when I was really young, maybe 12 or so. I’d just read one of his children’s books and loved it, and just went to my school library and borrowed every book of his I could find. I was a little bit shocked, but loved them!

    A couple of years ago they had a theatre adaptation of some of his stories at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse -really good fun!

    • I weirdly never decided to pick up any of his adult books after reading this collection in school, in fact I forgot that we had read them – rather bad of me! However I loved this so much that when I saw two of his other collections the other day I snatched them up and will be reading them in the New Year.

  2. I remember reading ‘The Landlady’ at school too! It scared the bejeezus outta me – and still does, to be honest. I remember we had to read a particularly badly photocopies version featuring a horrible drawing of an old woman – which, because of said bad xerox, was all dark and smudged and blurry, it was terrifying.

    • Isn’t it strange how vividly we remember that particular story? That said I had warped it a little in my mind. It was so nice to read it again. Creepy yet comforting in a very odd way.

  3. I’m not sure if it’s the same collection under a different name, as it features many of the stories you mention, but I have a copy of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, which has some additional ones, such as ‘Taste’ or ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’.

    • I think there might be a few anthologies and also some changes of names here there and everywhere so various of the same stories have ended up in different editions in different books in different countries. the last two you mention weren’t in this collection.

  4. I went very quickly from the Choclate Factory books to Kiss Kiss when I was young. I never did read the rest of his children’s books until I was grown up and starting my teaching career.

    My favorite is “Lamb to the Slaughter” which was in the anthology my high school used.

    • I will have to find out which collection that is in now and dig out a copy, I did buy two more of them this week but haven’t checked what the stories were called – I just liked this so much I got them regardless.

  5. I never knew Dahl wrote stories for adults. Now I’m intrigued. I like dark and twisted,

  6. Ann Bradley

    Huge fan! You may like to try The Vicar of Nibbleswicke…about an unusual sort of dyslexia…a bit mischievous, very short, like a little folk tale…will make you smile! 🙂

  7. These are so great – there are so many different collections of Dahl’s short stories out there (the one I have has several that you cover above) but as others have said, Lamb To The Slaughter is great, as is Skin.

    • I think Penguin, here in the UK, have published all of them in collections that they appeared in during the 80’s again so if you buy them all you get every single one eventually, if that makes sense?

  8. I really had no idea that Roald Dahl had ever written anything for adults, so I am even further behind than you! This sounds very good – I will add it to my list.

    BTW, I recently read Middlemarch for one of my book groups. I mentioned your Classically Challenged project in my review, but I couldn’t find where exactly on The Readers blog or yours it is addressed. If you have a specific page where you introduce the program, with books to be read and dates, please let me know and I will update my link.


    Book By Book

    • I don’t think you were the only one Sue, I always forget these books existed and I had read one of them, he is just more famous for his children’s books.

      Thank you for the link to your Middlemarch review. I am avoiding anyones thoughts on it until after I have read it though, I have bookmarked it. I think AJ and I will be doing a special on The Readers soon just past the halfway point.

  9. dom

    his 2 biographies of early life Boy & Going Solo are indispensable dob! [dandruff man on the boat~ i shall say No more]

  10. Sarie

    I read all the books after enjoying the television series as a child in the 70’s! Great stuff!

  11. Oh I love everything Roald Dahl. I had a poster of him on my wall when I was little. My favourite short story collection is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. I also second the recommendation of his autobiographies. I first read those when I was 10 or 11 and have come back to them over and over again.

    • I think I would like them. I was talking about this book to my Gran over the last couple of days and she was saying what an awful person he apparently was. I had to stick my fingers in my ears and sing as I didn’t want my image of him tainted and then the books being tainted similarly.

  12. Pingback: Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One… | Savidge Reads

  13. Pingback: What did Roald Dahl learn from Hemingway? | tigerbaybooks

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