Simply put, this is a collection of short stories about sex. But this isn’t as cheap and tawdry as you might imagine; the stories are all wonderfully inventive and each with delightful twists at the end. Indeed, you’d expect nothing less from Mr. Dahl. This was something of a bizarre read for me as well, as I’d only ever read his works intended for children (although they could get dark and twisted in places as well), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being a particular favourite of mine growing up. So reading one of his more adult-oriented works was certainly an experience for sure. What he does especially well in this collection is effortlessly make parts of the stories emotionally crushing yet hilarious at the same time, which is no mean feat.
Two of the stories, ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Bitch’ are told from the perspective of ‘Uncle Oswald’, presented as a notorious womaniser whose memoirs have been discovered by his family. ‘Visitor’ is particularly brilliant as, not to give anything away, a dream-come-true (for him) scenario of sleeping with another man’s wife and daughter becomes a nightmare, when he is cruelly, yet justly punished for his intended transgression at the end. My first reaction was ‘Oh….shit’ but quickly turned to hysterical laughter. ‘Bitch’ meanwhile is perhaps a little silliler and ‘out there’, the ending in particular, but it captures the sheer primality of our carnal desires very well. The character in general, despite his attitude towards women (he has a strict ‘one time only’ policy’, which he repeatedly stresses), and complete lack of morals, is one you just can’t truly hate, and his (mis)adventures are truly a joy to read.
‘The Great Switcheroo’ meanwhile, involves two husbands crafting a master plan to sleep with each other’s wives, without the wives actually knowing that it isn’t their husband in the act with them. If this sounds completely implausible, suspend your disbelief – the plan and how it is carried out is actually quite ingenious, and fully explained step-by-step, again emphasising the lengths we will go to for sex. Again, not to spoil things too much, but while the plan technically does work, it has devastating consequences for one of the husbands in question, but again, this is written in such a way that is darkly humorous.
‘The Last Act’, meanwhile, is probably the most brutal of the four – there is little comedy in this one, given that it deals with a woman contemplating suicide following the tragic passing of her husband. While this ends up being delayed when she lands herself a job, an encounter with an old flame quickly sends her falling into the abyss again, and I personally had to put the book down and process what I had just read after the ending, which really does show how cruel and callous humanity can be, at its worst. It pulls no punches, this one, and is a very raw and emotional read. Probably just as well, then, that the more light-hearted ‘Bitch’ is the story to close the collection.
Overall, I really enjoyed this collection, and read it all more or less in one sitting – I was certainly hooked in. Would highly recommend it, and therefore will award it a 5/5!
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