Skin Chooser

Monday, July 04, 2005

Dallying with Dahl

Uma mentioned Roald Dahl in her blog. And linked to this article in the The New Yorker.

A few months back, I had been to a bookstore on one of those meaningless, evening outings. I was walking the aisles glancing at the fare on display and my eyes caught a Roald Dahl Omnibus. I was introduced to Dahl in early middle school, when I found a teacher reading one of his poems over lunch and had to find out for myself who the hell this guy was. After devouring several of his kid stories and a few poems, I fell for his simple and made-for-the-kids style. His poems too had this streak of humor and simplistic candidness all through. And then, in the transition from middle school to high school, was lost this enthralling writer that I would have loved to read more of. Once I ended up here in grad school, I did manage to find a few more of his stories online. But never a hardback or paperback to keep company on a Saturday afternoon.

Leafing through the index pages, my thoughts flew halfway across the world to my sister. She was bang in the middle of the academic chaos that we call high school. I was sure that she had not discovered Roald Dahl, and I did not want her repeating these li'l mistakes that I had committed. It was this that spurred me to buy the book as soon as I set eyes on it. "I'll gift it to her when I go home", I thought. Back to my apartment, the selfish reader in me took over. "She wont mind if I read the book first. After all, I am her brother. I'll get it wrapped once I finish."

And I was in for a neat, li'l surprise. Roald Dahl, it seems wrote short stories targeted at adult audiences too. The book carried a selection of short stories from 2 or 3 of his published collections, and a few that had been published in magazines. I read on, discovering a new facet to this writer of children's stories. I found in him, the same qualities that make Saki and O' Henry masters of their genre. The wry humor, the succinctness, the ability to bring a stale setting to life and weave a story out of an ordinary occurrence. And most of all, the surprise ending. The ending that typically whips your breath away, leaving you whooshing for air. And then makes you read that last paragraph again, this time, the feeling of expectation tingling up your spine. And brings you back to the same story a week from hence for another dose of exquisite adrenalin. Indeed, the ideal short story is addictive. And the Dahl I was reading was on those same lines! Not the captivating children's story, but the full fledged, regal short story.

Some of them had mildly non-kiddo themes. The kind that is seemingly targeted at middle-aged, stern-looking, gossip-loving, English spinsters. The kind that might have appeared in magazines that had commissioned Dahl for a series of stories to boost their reader base. But nevertheless, humorous and readable.

And hence, I was in a dilemma. I wasn't sure my sister was ready to read such stories. She would appreciate the language and style, sure. But I was in two minds about the content, however mildly it might have been put. She might be in high school, but she was still my li'l kid sister. Fortunately, the issue never crystallized as my trip home has not yet materialized. And by the time I do get around to gifting the book to my sister, I think she'll be almost out of school, and much better poised to read "Dahl: the short story writer".


Blogger uma said...

nice! 'the academic chaos that we call high school' - spot on!

Tue Jul 05, 10:06:00 AM CDT 
Anonymous Srikanth said...

I still clearly remember "The Umbrella Man" but I haven't read anything else from Dahl. Shall do so sometime...

Sun Jul 10, 01:06:00 AM CDT 
Blogger RamV said...

thanks uma.

and srikanth, the umbrella man was a nice piece. i remember it too.

Sun Jul 10, 01:37:00 AM CDT 
Anonymous Lalitha said...

Well Prasad, I have read Dahl's "The Giant Peach" & i think its unfair on ur part to read something that was initially meant 4 ur sis!!

Sun Jul 31, 03:27:00 AM CDT 
Blogger RamV said...

hey lal .. nice to see u here. remember,

i've not yet gifted it to you .. ;)
you better tone it down a li'l bit. :)
or else ...... :)

btw, I've not read the giant peach ...
talk to u abt it soon!

Sun Jul 31, 08:59:00 AM CDT 

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