Even though yes I am indeed an adult, I have a soft spot for YA Fiction or Teenage fiction as it is also known. I am currently reading Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and it is a little hard going at times. I decided take a trip to the local library and trawl through the teenage section in search of something light and easy. I was surprised to see a Roald Dahl title amongst the shelf; surely it has been misplaced? Well apparently not!
Skin and Other Stories, published by Puffin Books in 2000, is in fact a collection of short stories written well before his fame and fortune came as being a magical, illustrious children’s author. They are all written for teenagers and consist of eleven dark, macabre and sinister tales. Forget the light and easy pal; this definitely was coming home with me.
As I sit here and write this blog post however, I can’t help but think ‘what a let down.’ Was it because of shabby writing? No. Was it because the stories were rubbish? No. I think it is more to do with his more famous works. As a child I loved The Twits and Matilda and The Witches. These short stories just lack that escapism that the previous works offer.
A lady called Wendy Cooling writes the introduction, very well actually. In it she says ‘(Dahl) became interested in writing stories that could be read in one sitting.’ The problem with that is you have to create a set of characters, introduce them quickly, describe a problem and solve it by the end. Unfortunately with some of these stories, he fails right at the end. There just isn’t enough of a resolution to warrant satisfaction.
My favourite has to be ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ in where Mary Malone kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then feeds the lamb to the policemen investigating. It is full of dark humour, quirky details and yes, macabre emotions. Sadly a lot of the other stories fail to live up to this.
Though it is worth noting that the story ‘The Champion of the World’ influenced his novel ‘Danny: The Champion of the World’, one of my all time favourite Dahl novels. Roughly half of these little tales are worth at least a read, but I think it is safe to say that Dahl is better at writing for children with his fantastic imagination and inventive writing style, than he is writing short stories for teenagers.