Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: My Uncle Oswald

It is disquieting to think that the man who wrote James and the Giant Peach could also come up with My Uncle Oswald. True, Roald Dahl’s short stories are intended for adults and range from the diabolically clever to the downright salacious to the disturbingly macabre. But Uncle Oswald falls on the far end of the salacious range, bordering on raunchy.

In this novella, Oswald – who was first introduced to Dahl fans in “The Visitor,” one of the stories in Switch Bitch – tells the tale of how he made his fortune. This adventure involved selling “potency pills” to diplomats and starting a sperm bank with contributions from unwitting, very prominent, donors. Both ventures turn on the remarkable efficacy of the Sudanese blister beetle.

The book is funny. Dahl is a master at drawing the reader into unbelievable scenarios involving unlikable characters. Here, Oswald and his vixen sidekick Yasmin tour Europe seducing royalty, artists, authors, and geniuses – delivering their ill-gotten gains to the Semen’s Home and making readers giggle at their antics. It is easy to finish, but leaves a tinge of embarrassment. As Oswald himself points out:
The act of copulation is like that of picking the nose, It’s all right to be doing it yourself but it is a singularly unattractive spectacle for the onlooker.

PS: Dahl was married to American movie star Patricia Neal for 30 years. Will the wonders of Wikipedia never cease?


Please leave a link in a comment and I will add your review here.


  1. No way! I didn't know Roald Dahl wrote anything but children's books. I need to look for this.

  2. Oddly enough, I just read a Michael Lewis book (Home Game) where he went to visit Roald Dahl at his house. He said he was amazed at the level of morbid humor from the entire family. I guess that makes sense considering the style of children's books he writes.

  3. From "The Wind in the Willows" to fishnet stockings? Oh my!

  4. And I doubt nose-picking porn would sell as well. Just sayin'.

  5. I'm adding both My Uncle Oswald and Switch Bitch to my list - thanks for your review!

  6. True -- not much market for nose porn! Thank heavens.

    Oddly, I never read his children's books, so I was surprised to learn that he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a favorite childhood movie of mine. I thought he just wrote very clever and sometimes very weird stories for adults.

    A couple of my big favorites are "Man From the South" where they bet their fingers; "Lamb to the Slaughter" where the . . . I can't say because it will give it away, but it was turned into my favorite Alfred Hitchcock episode; and The Amazing Grammatizator, Dahl's sed up of pop fiction.

  7. To be honest, I've always found Dahl disturbing. I never got the feeling he liked children, even as he used them as characters in his books. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in particular, has this anti-child undertone to it that kind of creeps me out.

  8. How DO you choose what book to read next? This has to be one of the more interesting sequences.

  9. He's always shady, even in his "children's" fiction. I didn't even know he wrote for adults. Might have to investigate. Wiki is awesome. My nose for dirt always leads me there.

  10. Thanks for the link to this post on Dahl! I've had his Collected Stories sitting on the shelf for a half year and am finally getting a chance to sort through them. Really interesting shorts! I like the creepy people...they seem very real. I'll have to pick up this one, too.


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