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BOOKS?

robert43041
Viking
Tyrant of Words
Canada 36awards
Joined 30th July 2020
Forum Posts: 687

Benoît Philippon:  Mamie Luger (2018). Le récit d'une dame de 102 ans.  Ça se passe en France ''dans un village auvergnat aux abords de Saint-Flour'' et ça inclus les 2 grandes guerres.  Dans sa cave on retrouve plusieurs crânes et ossements.  De ses maris qu'elle a tué.  On la croie totalement folle, méchante, une tueuse en série...........mais alors qu'elle est en garde-à-vue elle nous raconte son passé et tout et tout..........et à la fin on ne peut pas la trouver coupable de rien...........

poet Anonymous


Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life is a 1989 collection of the author’s early short stories set in rural England, with an introduction by him in which he places them in context. Published a year before his passing, it serves almost as a kind of lightly plotted novel, given the recurring characters and settings. Most of the stories are narrated by a character called Gordon, an obvious stand-in for Dahl who runs a petrol station, and feature his friend Claud. Claud lives in a caravan, does odd jobs, and spends a lot of his time thinking up schemes into which he draws Gordon.

I’m not typically a fan of rural English fiction, all that Darling Buds of May and James Herriot stuff (not that I dislike those particular examples). I tend to find a lot of it idyllic in a way that isn’t all that interesting to me. But Dahl, of course, was anything but idyllic, and the stories in this collection are of a coarse and macabre nature that’s an antidote to easy nostalgia.

The arrangement of the stories gives the book its aforementioned novelistic structure, starting with the shortest (the titular) and ending on the strongest as well as the most exciting, “The Champion of the World”. The titular story illustrates an amusing bit of folklore about how you can influence a calf’s sex via the mating positions of the cow and the bull. While I’m sure that a scientist would cock an eyebrow at this use of eugenics, I don’t doubt that it was based on something that Dahl heard while living in the countryside.

With regards to the book’s last story, it’s no surprise that Dahl would go on to re-use and expand the plot of it (about pheasant poaching) for possibly his greatest children’s book, Danny, the Champion of the World.

The climax of the story, which involves a perambulator, is still as thrilling and funny to me all these years later as when I read it in the children’s version. Plus, although “The Champion of the World” doesn’t have the same emotional core as Danny (if only because it lacks the father/son relationship of that novel), it still contains the most moving and majestic of Dahl’s writing about country life that you’ll find in this collection.

The middle of Sweet Mystery, meanwhile, is served by the less plot-driven and more sedentary “Mr Hoddy”, about Claud trying to impress his potential father-in-law with a get-rich-quick scheme involving maggots, before we start our ascent to the climax with “Mr Feasey”, which follows both Claud and Gordon as they try to bring off a greyhound-racing swindle.

Now’s probably a good time to mention that if you’re sensitive to themes of animal cruelty, this might not be the book for you. Especially in “Mr Feasey” and “The Ratcatcher”, which I’ll get to in a moment, Dahl exposes the inhuman practices that animals were (and no doubt still are) often subjected to. His sympathies lie with the animals in so much as he doesn’t present their abusers sympathetically. Claud and Gordon aren’t exactly barnstorming vegans, of course, but they have respect for the natural world even as they seek to profit from it.

“The Ratcatcher” comes the closest to a “pure” horror story. The titular character is a Fagin-like exterminator, not dissimilar to a rat in appearance. Like many of Dahl’s horror stories, it hinges on a bet, this time concerning a live rat. In its use of visceral horror, it feels a bit like early Stephen King, in collections like Night Shift and Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

That said, the viscera is only implied, allowing room for your imagination to fill the gap. It’s a trick that Dahl used several times and pulls off beautifully here. Well, maybe not beautifully… It’s so disgusting that I still wrinkle my nose and retract my lips a little when I think about it, as if I’m sucking a sour gumball.

“Rummins” mines a similar vein, describing a summer when old man Rummins, a gentle alcoholic and playground attendant with whom children have an instinctive sympathy (hence why he remains their attendant despite his propensity for drink), has an unfortunate workplace accident. The twist in this one is memorably horrifying, and like “The Ratcatcher” can still raise the bile in my throat.

Although “The Champion” is my favourite, I would like to give a shout-out to “Parson’s Pleasure”, which may have been the first of Dahl’s adult stories that I read. Despite not containing any violence, to humans or animals, its end is one of his squirmiest for me. It follows a con man who deals in antiques as he dresses like a parson (comparable to a vicar) to gain entrance to people’s homes and scour them for items that he can cheat them out of the full price for. You could say that he gets his comeuppance when he finds an invaluable antique in a shabby farmhouse, but what happens is such a cruel twist of the knife for both con man and victim that there are no winners here…

The collection as a whole is a real treat for fans of dark and cynical humour, stories about working-class lives and rustic living, and also horror. It could stand pretty snugly among Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected collections.

AverageJoe
Average Joe. AJ. Joe
Fire of Insight
United States 1awards
Joined 8th Sep 2019
Forum Posts: 396

The White Goddess, by Robert Graves

AverageJoe
Average Joe. AJ. Joe
Fire of Insight
United States 1awards
Joined 8th Sep 2019
Forum Posts: 396

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