Cruel World

Erica Wagner reviews the collected stories of Roald Dahl, in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_9_2Jeremy Treglown, in his thoughtful introduction to this volume of Dahl’s collected stories, reminds me that I, like so many others, came to Dahl the wrong way around. We think of Roald Dahl as a writer for children, the magical creator of James, Charlie, Matilda and the BFG, who worked in a shed in his English garden with a silver ball of chocolate-wrappers by his side. That he was, but only after he had established a reputation as a writer of clever, often savage, stories for adults, this in the days when being a writer of stories could earn you a good living. To Dahl, the turn toward children’s books seemed something to mourn; as the story of a boy who sailed to New York in an overgrown piece of fruit took shape, he wondered, “What the hell am I writing this nonsense for?”

Most readers would disagree with Dahl’s harsh assessment, but it’s still fine — and not a little disturbing — to be reminded of his other skills. These twisting tales are strongly influenced, as Treglown notes, by the skilfully plotted work both of O. Henry and of the English writer Saki (H. H. Munro), and their power derives, in large part, from the reader’s simple desire to know what happens next. It is almost physically impossible to set this book down in the middle of a story.

More here.