Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl

Tales of the Unexpected is a selection of short stories taken from some of his other works, such as Kiss Kiss and Someone Like You.  All of the 16 tales have a twist in them, keeping the reader guessing at the outcome right until the end.

Like many people, I know Dahl mainly from his works for children, which I adored as a young reader.  These were wonderful, magical worlds where anything could happen and where the good guys always came through in the end.  Having reread some of his work as an adult, I now have a somewhat different appreciation of his work, with their hither to unnoticed (by me, at least) darker elements.

Tales of the Unexpected is the first of Dahl’s work written specifically for adults that I’ve come to, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I found that the writing style was a little less compelling that I expected, and some of the conversations were a little stilted and repetitive in places.  But, these stories are very clever, and I did enjoy most of them.  Obviously the contents of the writing are different to his work for children – gone are the giant fruits, marvellous medicines and friendly giants.  But there are some compelling characters and chilling surprises here, and the plots of these stories are varied.  Some of the endings are ambiguous, hinting at a darker, unstated outcome, whilst others are quite clear cut.  They were, for the most part, unexpected.

The highlights for me were:

  • Taste – about a man who bets his daughter’s hand in marriage, on the basis that a wine connoisseur cannot identify the specific claret that has been served with dinner
  • Nunc Dimittis – a wonderful little story of revenge enacted by a gentlemen who finds out that his younger girlfriend thinks that he a is a ‘bore’
  • Lamb to the Slaughter – another tale of revenge, the idea for which apparently came from Ian Fleming (according to Wikipedia, anyway – make of that what you will)
  • Royal Jelly – one of more fantastic stories in the collection, in which a father finds a creative solution when his new born daughter refuses to take her milk

I believe that this book is now out of print, although all of the stories are available in other compilations that are still available.

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