Today marks the publication of four new short story collections by Roald Dahl published as part of his centenary. The books which include Innocence, War, Trickery and Fear all explore the darker side of human nature, and alongside Dahls’s writing they also include striking cover art by Charming Baker. The first of this series I read was Innocence, and today I have a review of War: Tales of Conflict and Strife.
In Innocence there is a lot to be discovered about Dahl’s early life in his autobiography, Boy. I chose to read War next out of this series as it includes Going Solo, an autobiography which picks up events from where Boy left off. And what a remarkable series of events this includes. It covers Dahl’s journey to Africa, the people he meets and the extraordinary encounters he experiences – with stories featuring the local wildlife making for a surprising read. I found this to be really fascinating, particularly as I was discovering things about an author whose works featured prominently in my childhood. I never realised the extent of his experiences before. This is also notable when it comes to the war, where we read of his training to become a fighter pilot and the challenges that he faced. This provided extraordinary insight into the conflict through the eyes of an individual who had been at the heart of the violence, putting his life at risk and finding himself in frightening situations. This is also enhanced with the photographs and correspondence included throughout which helped create this sense of time and place. As with the stories featured in Boy I found this to be a compelling read about a difficult subject.
Alongside Going Solo, this collection also includes seven more stories on the topic of war which help to present the harsh realities of war and the impact it has, the human cost. Many of the featured stories make for harrowing reading, particularly ‘Death of an Old Man’ which I found to be particularly poignant. The stories deal with the physical and emotional impact on those involved in conflict, and we see the way that life can change dramatically, never to be the same again. This is most notable in the story ‘The Soldier’, in which we see a soldier returning from war. Dahl’s firsthand experience of conflict provides authenticity to the stories and I read on with interest as I found out more about the conflicts, seeing the true extent of the horrors, but also the humanity that can be found amongst the inhumanity. And one of the most prominent stories in the collection is one which recounts one of his own terrifying experiences.’ A Piece of Cake’ was Dahl’s first paid piece of writing which describes the moment his plane had crashed in Libya and his subsequent recovery. I wasn’t aware of this incident prior to reading, so was this made for a compelling and interesting read.
As with Innocence, I actually managed to read War in one day and found it to be a fascinating read which leaves the reader with plenty to ponder over, not least the extraordinary life of a much loved writer. In my next blog post, I will be sharing my review of Trickery: Tales of Deceit and Cunning.
War was published on 10th August 2017 by Penguin and is one of eight centenary editions exploring the darker side of human nature. Many thanks to Sam Deacon at Penguin for providing copies for review.