This anthology contains four wonderful short stories of lust, love and debauchery. Dahl's is to other soft-porn writing as kinky sex is to the missionary position.
The Visitor is fabulous. Grotesque. Loathsome. Macabre. Revolting. This is the best of the four and it sets you squirming with horror and delight. Roald Dahl has a fantastic gift to make a reader believe the unbelievable, savour the despicable and leave them gasping for more. He exercises this gift with as much skill in the realm of sexual passions as in all his more innocent stories. In The Visitor his narrative thread is a finely-balanced blade of deadly sharpness, controlling the story in every shade and nuance of meaning and detail until the horrific and superlative ending. That I guessed what this ending would be did not decrease my enjoyment of it. I knew that Oswald's obsessive cleanliness must be leading up to something, and it didn't take too long for me to guess what. (The inevitable fate of a philanderer in modern society - perhaps a novel idea back in 1965.)
Of course, this excellent first story left me a little disappointed after finishing the second one. The Great Switcheroo is a Dahlian classic, but lacks the extra spark of wow that characterises The Visitor. I think it's the happy ending - Roald Dahl's writing often appeals to the blacker side of my nature and I absolutely relish disgusting, frightening or unpleasent endings. I also wonder whether my lack of experience in the area might not affect my reaction to the story. (To put it more plainly, I have never been a sexually frustrated wife and have no idea how one might feel.)
I do not understand The Last Act at all. So far as I can tell, all that happens - actually, that may be the problem. It just happens. I can't see any hidden meanings at all. Her husband dies, she gets depressed, she gets a job, has sex with a man who turns out to be a bore, gets depressed again, kills herself. Hmmmm.
Bitch, however, is another classic in the style of The Great Switcheroo. That the two glorious plots in the story fail, one after another, is not terribly disappointing for some reason. Yet it's not so fantastically horrible as The Visitor. None can compete with that one, it seems.
I have Kiss Kiss (by the same author) on order at the bookshop, and await its arrival with great impatience.
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