Book Review: Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl

I must admit, it’s been a while since I’ve read any of Roald Dahl’s kids books, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ploughing through this large collection of short stories. (There’s about 5 books crammed into one here.)

After a while, you start to get the hang of Dahl’s formula, but it’s a fun formula with endless variety (like classical music, really), so it doesn’t get boring.

What he tends to do in all of his tales is start with a very close attention to detail, all of it quite believable. This is because within a couple of pages, he’s going to introduce something totally off-the-wall into the story – and you’re going to buy it completely, because he tells the tale in such a matter-of-fact way.

So when a doctor starts explaining that if your brain and a connecting eyeball were removed from a body after death, you could effectively live forever – it sounds like quite a reasonable idea. When the scientist experiments with his sound machine that can hear ultra-high-pitched sounds, it seems quite plausible that he’d hear tiny screaming coming from the roses being cut in the garden next door.

You can also usually guarantee that there will be some sort of satisfying twist at the end as well.

And so it goes through a huge mixed bag of stories. The only time the collection drags a bit is in the book Over To You, which consists of short war stories. Because these don’t have the element of the fantastic which characterises the others – in fact, most of Dahl’s writing – they’re not as memorable.

But, on the whole, this is a highly amusing collection of short stories for grown ups, and anybody who loved Dahl as a young person isn’t going to be disappointed.

4 out of 5.

And Then There were None – Epilogue

Just so there’s no misunderstandings, this post is on the epilogue, the next post tomorrow is on a mysterious “letter found in a bottle”.

In some ways, this chapter is a bit of a nod to Christie’s normal detective novels, where the police come in and try to sort out the crime. And maybe if Hercule Poirot was on hand or Miss Marple, they’d have a better chance.

But they’re coming up with nothing. We’re now enlightened about the fascinating back story about why the boat never came to rescue the 10 during the week, the involvement of Isaac Morris (the Jewish gentleman referenced back in Chapter 1, if you remember three weeks ago) and a little bit more background on our characters. (Though obviously our killer knew more about their back stories than the police were able to uncover.)

So in some ways, this chapter just serves to reiterate the mystery and deal with any final theories that people might have. (I like the bit best where they’re trying to work out how the last three could have died.) And who doesn’t feel creeped out by the chair below Vera’s body being placed neatly back against the wall?

Without a doubt, U N Owen is the 1930s precursor to Keyser Soze.

And sometime after this investigation was closed – we’re not sure how long – a boat comes across a bottle floating in the water with a letter in it. That letter, which we’ll read tomorrow, contains the final missing pieces of information that shed light on what took place on Indian Island . . .

See you tomorrow!

And Then There Were None (10 Dead; 0 Alive)

In many ways, the best thing to come out of this novel getting renamed as And Then There Were None is that it sets up a promise that – staggeringly – gets delivered in the final chapter.

We could believe, when it just came down to Vera and Lombard (why does he always get referred to by his last name, but she always gets referred to by her first?) that Lombard was it. Like Vera, we instantly see the wolf snarl and the cunning as the mark of a man who could cold-bloodedly pick off eight people one by one.

But then – the magnificent twist: the countdown goes down to zero. I remember I read this novel out loud to my sister when I was a teenager and at the time, none of us knew how it was going to end. And we hit this chapter, and it really just set my teenage brain reeling.

What on earth happened here? Did I really read what I thought I read?

For my money, it’s one of the greatest “What the…?” moments in storytelling history. The rug has been completely ripped out from under us. We know what we’ve witnessed – but we understand none of it.

And it is in that state of confusion, that Agatha Christie rolls out the Epilogue. I’ll see you tomorrow night for that one …

And Then There Were None – Chapter 15 (8 Dead; 2 Alive)

Decided to change the rules a bit. I’m going to blog about Chapter 15, and then after that Chapter 16 (so you can read both chapters today).

I’ll do the Epilogue (the first part of it) and that will just leave us with the final section to read on Sunday.

So, anyway, here we are – almost as if knowing that Dan would raise the red herring theory, it’s dealt with in the first few pages by Vera. Is Armstrong dead or alive? It would stand to reason that if this were the red herring death, that he would still be alive.

It’s also the moment where I wish I was directing this, because I love the visual image – glorious sunshine, the three characters sitting outside on the grass or rocks overlooking the water. With the deathtrap of a house looming on the horizon. . . .

However, things move very quickly – and all because Blore decided he needed some lunch. I won’t spell it out – you’ve either read it or you haven’t, but needless to say our fourth and third Indian/soldier/nameless racial stereotype are dealt with in one hit, we find out that the red herring perhaps had more to do with fish than we thought, and everybody wants to read Chapter 16.

So, without further ado, I’ll quickly write up the post for that chapter…

And Then There Were None – Chapter 14 (6/7 Dead?; 3/4 Alive?)

Now all bets are off. Is it one of the remaining four? Is there someone else on the island? If it’s one of the four, who can it be? If it’s someone else, why can’t they seem to find them? It’s all going crazy.

We also get another look into the back story of the characters, especially Vera, and we realise that she actually was quite callous in killing off young Cyril. And up till now has been very good at hiding the truth of how evil she is. But does that make her evil enough to engineer this?

Blore seems scared out of his mind, but if Dan’s theory is correct – the killer may not realise what he’s doing. Lombard says he’s a bit rattled – but rattled by how close he is to being murdered – or by how close he is to being unmasked as the killer.

And then, of course, there is the doctor – but he’s not in this chapter. We’re left with only three Indian boy statues, which would indicate that he’s dead.

But there’s no body.

And as Dan will be the first to point out, if I don’t:

Four little Indian boys, going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

So on that rather ambiguous note, I’ll bid you goodbye until tomorrow.

And Then There Were None – Chapter 13 (6 Dead; 4 Alive)

Now this chapter is where the cinematic potential of this story to be redone as a really scary slasher flick comes to the fore.

I love the levels of paranoia in this chapter – five people just sitting watching one another’s every move, checking that the drinks aren’t tampered with.

And then, despite all that, they’re still outsmarted by our very clever killer. Actually, with the whole costume thing – all the missing objects of the last few chapters now being revealed – I’d say a very clever, very twisted killer.

Hang in there, folks . . . only a few days more.

Oh yeah, Dan, and they gave you all the inner thoughts of everyone while they were sitting in the lounge room as well . . .

And Then There Were None – Chapter 12 (5 Dead; 5 Alive)

Well, we’re at the halfway mark now, as another of our suspects bites the dust. Oddly enough, she was our chief suspect from yesterday. We’re now down to five. Unlike that other island serial killer show, having less suspects doesn’t at all make it clearer who is likely to be a killer. (But if you do watch that island show, you would have well and truly worked out the identity by then.)

I’m quite enjoying the character of the Judge, because having worked in the law courts, the way he speaks is characteristic of the way Judges deliver summings up or sentences: very deliberately, point by point, logical.

How else could he persuade everyone to submit to strip-searching?

Actually, while all their actions (locking up the drugs, hunting for the gun, etc) logically make sense, all of this is really about persuading you, the reader, of the rules of the game. It’s Agatha Christie’s equivalent of the conjurer showing you that there’s nothing up his sleeves.

There’s a house, five people, missing gun, drugs all locked up. We’re all clueless. That’s the situation.

See you tomorrow!

And Then There Were None – Chapter 11 (4 Dead; 6 Alive)

Well, without wasting any time, the week kicks off with our 4th victim. See, I was right about Rogers being crossed off the list of suspects.

The good thing is, it leaves us with a more manageable list of suspects:

– The corrupt detective Blore

– The devil-may-care adventurer Lombard

– The religiously severe Emily Brent

– The coldly logical Justice Wargrave

– The “access to all poisons” Dr Armstrong

– The guilt-ridden Vera Claythorne.

This is where we start to notice how 2D these characters are, as well. They just don’t seem to be overly phased by the whole thing. (e.g. Lombard’s amusement at Blore and thinking that he’d be likely to be bumped off because he has no imagination). In fact, if it was me, I think I’d be divvying up the cold food, sending everyone to their room, and not letting people come out until someone comes with a boat.

Either that, or I’d get everyone camped in the lounge room. But then, for sure, the murderer would stay awake longer than everyone else and kill everyone else while they were asleep.

I’m getting morbid, but despite everyone trying their best to eat breakfast calmly, there’s a heightened sense of craziness in the air. This is what I love about this particular novel. In a detective novel, the crime has been committed, so there’s no real tension – just the enjoyment of unravelling whodunnit. In this book, though, all the characters are playing for their lives, and if they don’t work out who’s behind it soon, they’ll be next.

Looking forward to tomorrow!

And Then There Were None – Chapter 10 (3 Dead; 7 Alive)

Sorry this was later than the scheduled 8pm – it took a bit longer to get my daughter to sleep than I thought.

Well, I’m sorry that there have only been two murders this week (thus leaving the lion’s share for the final week of our reading project), but hopefully that will make the last week that more quick and bloodthirsty…

I find this chapter doesn’t contribute to theories so much as just indicates how these suspects react to the stress of the whole thing. If it was me, I’d be freaking out, wanting to sit in the corner of a room, armed with a gun and various sharp firearms.

These characters react in different ways – we see Vera and Philip form themselves into a bit of a duo and the Judge and the Doctor do the same. Menawhile, Emily Brent retreats into her own mind and Rogers is just nervous.

However, of all of these, Rogers seems to be the only one I’d cross off the list of suspects because we seem him on his own and he’s trying to ensure that no more Indian statues get stolen.

Or is that just a red herring?

Guess we’ll all know next week – either way, we’ll all have our doors bolted for the weekend.

And Then There Were None – Chapter 9 (3 Dead; 7 Alive)

The General’s strange premonition in the previous chapter now comes true – he is dead.

Justice Wargrave now becomes the closest thing we’ve seen to a detective in this story. Piece by piece, in true Poirot fashion (including having all suspects in one room), we are walked through the murders – trying different theories – trying to make them fit.

Of course, it leaves us more in the dark than ever – but it really does cover most of the possibilities of what could have happened.

Unless of course, something completely different happened, in which case, Agatha Christie is leading us all up the garden path.

We’ll know in a week and a half…