This year was the first time that I participated as a Book Giver for World Book Night and I really enjoyed it. I ended up giving them out in a town that I wasn’t really familiar with as I was visiting my boyfriend at his university on April 23rd which was the official date. That actually made it quite interesting as it meant that I got to wander around looking for perfect spots to leave books. Most of the books had to be left in university buildings in the end as it started to drizzle with rain a little bit. I hope the others found good homes quickly!
A lot of the books that were on offer to choose to give out were unfamiliar to me so I picked Vengeance Is Mine Inc. by Roald Dahl as he is one of my favourite childhood authors. I’d not read any of his work for an adult audience before so I was really intrigued to see how his dark humour and magical writing transferred to his adult work. I ended up enjoying all of the short stories to various degrees but his children’s stories, in my opinion, are much superior to them.
The title story Vengeance is Mine Inc. is set in New York and is about two friends who after realising how completely broke they are, come up with a get rich scheme that actually works. Claude decides that there is a market for offering themselves to get revenge on slanderous newspaper gossip columnists on behalf of the society darlings who have been embarrassed by them. George, his roommate, jumps on the idea straight away and the next morning they go out to get business cards printed. The plot is just silly but in an endearing sort of way in that it is so far-fetched that only Dahl would tell it as a straight story. I did feel that it went a little too perfectly and too quickly to be realistic (although the plot isn’t exactly realistic anyway) and it wrapped up very suddenly. There’s no denying that it wasn’t enjoyable though.
Skin is probably the most famous of his short stories so I was glad that it had been included in this collection as I’d wanted to read it for a while. This one was the creepiest by far as it discussed the idea of whether a material object of worth is more valuable than a human life. It is set in April 1946 in Paris where is still very wintry and an old man called Drioli comes across a portrait gallery featuring the works of an artist that he used to know. Drioli, many years ago, convinced the artist to tattoo a portrait of his wife (who the artist is also in love with) on his back after showing him how it is done. After losing touch with each other because of WW1 he discovers many years later that the artist’s work is now famous and well sought after. The art dealers inside the gallery at first want to chuck him out as he looks homeless and is spoiling the atmosphere of sophistication that they have created but they soon change their tune when Drioli reveals his tattoo. After that the art dealers become very grotesque and disturbing. Practically salivating at all the money that they hope to make out of him and fighting over who gets to have the tattoo. I loved the slow build-up so it felt very sudden in the last few paragraphs. Although it kind of worked as it reflected the confusion of what was happening to him.
Some of the stories such as William and Mary and The Sound Machine didn’t quite work for me but I think that’s because they are quite dated. They read as dodgy ’60’s science fiction which I don’t think translates as well when read as they do in movies (I love b-movies) so perhaps that lessened the charm for me. William and Mary explores immortality and whether it is both attainable and worth it whilst also dealing with a troubled marriage (at least in Mary’s opinion.) So the basic idea is that a professor at Cambridge is dying of cancer in a hospital and is approached by a doctor who wants to take his brain when he dies and use it to see whether his brain can still be engaged with. Dahl uses a lot of medical language to try to convince the reader but it fell flat for me. William goes from being utterly disgusted to enthusiastically on board with the idea rather quickly which added to the problems that I had with it. It also meandered into Mary wanting to punish William after he was just the brain for all of the grievances he put her through; I liked this portion of the story a lot more but it felt a bit out of place and more of a sort of add on.The Sound Machine was a lot more cohesive but it felt quite weak compared to some of the other stories. The premise is that a man called Klausner has invented a sound machine which can pick up the sounds of pain plants make when they are being plucked so he goes out one morning to test what trees sound like when being axed. The sound the tree makes is so horrific that he makes his doctor try to fix the tree while seemingly threatening the doctor with the axe. It’s an interesting idea but something about it was just off.
My second favourite story was Royal Jelly which was the first that if I read it without a name attached I could guess as a work of Dahl. This one definitely reflected his personality shown through his children’s books which is possibly why I enjoyed it so much. It tells the story of Mable and Albert Taylor who are worried about the fact that their baby girl isn’t feeding. I don’t want to ruin what happens because the unfolding of it is brilliant and very creepy so all I’ll say is that Albert comes up with a plan involving his love of bees with horrific effects. I really hope that this was dramatised in Dahl’s t.v series Tales of the Unexpected!
The Great Automatic Grammatizator is my favourite. The title of it screams Dahl and this is where he shines the most. Adolf Knipe is a genius who works at a company who because of him have made lots of money from the invention of a mathematical machine and while proud, Knipe has a secret desire of being a writer instead. Unfortunately for him all of his stories are rubbish and are all rejected by publishers so he decides to get revenge by inventing a machine that can write stories so that he can become a famous writer and monopolise the publishing business. It sounds ridiculous but you just go with it and it’s such a fun story.
This bit made me laugh out loud so I’d like to share it with you:” “…For example, there’s a trick that nearly every writer uses, of inserting at least one long, obscure word into each story. This makes the reader think that the man is very wise and clever. There’ll be a whole stack of long words stored away just for this purpose.”
“In the “word memory” section,” he said, epexegetically.” ”
I’ve not talked about all of the stories that were in this collection and it seems like it was made especially for World Book Night so it is not on Goodreads. If you want to find out more then I recommend that you look at The Complete Collected Short Stories of which there are two volumes or Tales of the Unexpected which contains a lot of his most famous short stories.
If you have read any of his adult work before, what did you think? I still much prefer his children’s work and wasn’t overly impressed with this collection but let me know if there is a particular story that you think will change my mind.
World Book Night takes place every year and if you’d like to find out about it and possibly take part then click here.The books are provided to you for free and the idea is for you to give them out or leave them in places for people to find in order to get those who don’t normally read for whatever reason to pick something up. I’m definitely going to sign up again next year and I’ve got one of my friends excited to do it next year as well!