Roald Dahl Dahl, Roald (Vol. 18) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Dahl, Roald 1916–

Dahl, an Englishman born in Wales, is a short story writer, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and the author of several controversial and widely-read children's books, "cautionary tales for bad children" (of which Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the best known). Dahl's special talent as a short story writer is the integration of the pedestrian and the grotesque in tales that have been likened to Charles Addams's cartoons. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Dahl writes in the tradition of the light fantastic—its other masters include Saki, Lord Dunsany, John Collier, Robert M. Coates—and these stories [in Tales of the Unexpected], selected from previous collections, are all marked by a kind of dark humor, sometimes merely wry, other times macabre, occasionally grisly.

"New in Paperback: 'Tales of the Unexpected'," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), September 23, 1979, p. 13.

Peter Kemp

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hardly straining itself in the originality line, [My Uncle Oswald] shows Oswald involved with the discovery of a pill so potent that any man who takes it is unable to prevent himself from ravishing a woman on the spot. The one new idea is to incorporate the aphrodisiac into a scheme to steal the sperm of the famous, this celebrity-seed then being sold, at a high price, to women keen to bear the child of an outstanding man….

As may be imagined, this is not a situation that allows for much variety. Even the narrator fears it may be 'pretty boring for the reader'—as the novel's sex-receptacle trips her giggling way from Freud's 'doodly' to Shaw's 'snozzberry'. Leaden jokes about writers with thin pencils further weigh things down. And the twist at the end, routine in Dahl's writings, manages to be both unsurprising and unbelievable.

Peter Kemp, "'My Uncle Oswald'" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1979; reprinted by permission of Peter Kemp), in The Listener, Vol. 102, No. 2636, November 8, 1979, p. 642.

David Cook

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If only Uncle Oswald had had a twist—or, better still, a knot—in his member, we might have been spared many of Roald Dahl's descriptions of its size, colour, pulse and agility. As matters are, it is for ever standing up to be counted. It is brave of Mr Dahl to have written a novel with a totally dislikeable hero, but I suspect that this was not his intention; Uncle Oswald's only admirer may be his creator, as if God had started off with Father Rolfe. I don't believe that many women will read far into the novel, since Mr Dahl divides all their sex into four kinds—elderly sex-starved battle axes, athletic nymphomaniacs, dumb beauties, or janes who are so plain as to be physically repulsive. 'Thicknecked', 'long-snouted', 'seldom washed', 'crocodiles'—that's just the girls of Girton in 1919.

So OK—Swift. It's not OK. It's not Swift.

David Cook, "Spirit of Wimbledon: 'My Uncle Oswald'," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 98, No. 2540, November 23, 1979, p. 816.

Mollie Hardwick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If, as the blurb informs us, [My Uncle Oswald] is the funniest romp in years, what have all the others been like? This fine story-teller used to write riveting tales with a twist. What a pity he has revived Uncle Oswald to perpetrate this repetitious schoolboy joke at novel length.

Mollie Hardwick, "'My Uncle Oswald'" (© copyright Mollie Hardwick 1979; reprinted with permission), in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 25, No. 3, December, 1979, p. 17.

Rhoda Koenig

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

We know that God has a sense of humor, said de Maupassant, from the manner he has chosen for us to reproduce ourselves. This view of copulation as undignified and absurd is the theme of [My Uncle Oswald], a short, snappy burlesque of sex novels and sex. (p. 37)

[The] joke is not in the intrinsic brilliance of Dahl's dialogue, but in our matching his premise with our knowledge of his famous victims. When—sometimes in mid-sentence—intellect is overtaken by embarrassing necessity, we have the schoolboy pleasure of seeing great men, in Ben Hecht's phrase, caught with their polemics down. This formula reaches its most magnificent simplicity in Yasmin's advice to a genius who tries to figure out what is happening to him: "Mr. Einstein, relax."

Dahl's style is a sort of comic-strip version of Frank Harris. Oswald and Yasmin speak in modern, staccato rhythms, yet much of their vocabulary echoes Victorian porn—facetious names for the penis, "wench" used as a noun and verb…. Sometimes—as in a rather brutal representation of sex as medieval combat—Dahl's imagery is a bit sickening; but that, I suppose, is part of his merry contempt for polite entertainment. He has written a very impudent, jolly farce; I just hope other readers are able to suspend disbelief at the rather far-fetched idea of a geniuses' sperm bank. (p. 38)

Rhoda Koenig, "Brief Reviews: 'My Uncle Oswald'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1980 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 182, No. 16, April 19, 1980, pp. 37-8.

Vance Bourjaily

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"My Uncle Oswald" provides four or five hours of effortless reading and some amusing scenes, mostly of the kind film makers have taught us to call soft porn—so soft, indeed, that at times they turn out almost fluffy.

The tone is that of a gentleman telling ribald anecdotes to his male guests after dinner. The leer is civilized; the biographical confections make clever use of lèse-majesté; the dialogue gets mean and raunchy, but the physical detail is kept decorous, except for the Proust encounter. Even that's offstage.

Vance Bourjaily, "Civilized Ribaldry," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 20, 1980, p. 15.

Phoebe-Lou Adams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[My Uncle Oswald] looks like a recipe for pornography, and to some extent the novel is exactly that, but mere pornography is repetitious. Mr. Dahl's scheme permits him to have disrespectful fun with Proust and Shaw and such great names. Repetition is minimal. An uneven book and hardly for the delicate, but it has its high points.

Phoebe-Lou Adams, "PLA: 'My Uncle Oswald'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1980, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 245, No. 5, May, 1980, p. 104.