For every book we read during the book club, we try to write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Roy den Boer is our main reviewer for the book club books, judging all that we have picked.
Someone Like You collects eighteen short stories by Roald Dahl. Dahl is, of course, most famous for writing children’s books, but these stories are firmly aimed at adults. There isn’t any one plot point or theme that truly connects all eighteen stories together, but there are very stark family resemblances between them: murder, revenge, plot twists, disturbed minds and a whole lot of betting. I’ve divided the stories into five categories in order to discuss the collection without simply speeding through the plot of every single one.
Category 1: A bet is placed
This is obviously Roald Dahl’s favorite story device and it is undeniably effective. A protagonist places a bet provides instant stakes for drama and, very useful for Dahl, gives a motivation for when you push characters beyond the reasonable. Taste, Man from the South, My Lady Love My Dove and Dip in the Pool are the stories that involve protagonists betting. I guess Dip in the Pool is my favorite of these. It is probably the best example of the macabre sense of humor Dahl puts on display here. The story is probably the best marriage of the lightness of tone with a dark twisty ending.
Category 2: Other assorted schemes to gain wealth
Very similar to the first category, but slightly more general in nature and as a result, these are less similar in tone. I would put Skin, The Great Automatic Grammatizator and the last two parts of the four-part Claud’s Dog (Mr. Hoddy/Mr. Feasley) into this category. Skin feels like it could just be one of the betting stories, though it doesn’t actually involve a bet. In Grammatizator Dahl is in a different mode altogether. Here a man invents a machine that writes stories and Dahl relishes in satirizing the popular fiction of his day. It’s a nice change of pace from the tales of the macabre. The Mr. Hoddy and Mr. Feasley stories are about a man trying to scam a dog race. The last story is much longer than any other story in the collection and it is somehow both made better and worse by the length. Dahl allows this scheme and this character much more depth and reality than any other. When first getting through the collection as a whole this was my favorite, but in retrospect, Mr. Feasley doesn’t justify its length.
Category 3: Revenge
This is certainly the most explicitly murderous category of the bunch. Lamb to the Slaughter, Neck, Nunc Dimittis and, stretching slightly, Galloping Foxley are all about revenge or, at least, intentions of revenge and three of them involve full-on murder. Lamb to the Slaughter is probably the most famous story in this collection, though of this bunch Nunc Dimittis is my favorite (though the ending could’ve been more subtle).
Category 4: Minds of madness
In this category, we get Dahl letting us glimpse the perspective of disturbed minds. The Soldier is dealing with intense trauma. The Ratcatcher (Claud’s Dog 1) is mostly a monolog about catching rats, but Dahl somehow manages to make this intensely atmospheric and truly creepy throughout. The Wish is the shortest story of the collection about a boy playing on a carpet as true paranoia sneaks in. This category is probably the most interesting of all of them. Dahl is able to shake the more formulaic aspects of his short fiction in these.
Category 5: The uncategorizable
This is a total cop-out, I admit, but The Sound Machine is so odd that there really wasn’t going to be a category that was suitable. I mean, a science fiction story about hearing plants? It’s a total curveball. Rummins (Claud’s Dog 2) is sort of a mystery story, I guess I would call it. It’s well written, as all of the stories are, but you leave a little puzzled what the point was. Poison does actually fit one of the earlier categories, but it would be a spoiler to clarify.
The whole of the collection is weaker than the individual stories. By the time you reach the fourth macabre punchline to a story there is no more shock. The twists lose their power due to the sameness of the stories. Especially the betting and the revenge stories are so simply searching for the sadistic turn. Those stories do not contain full characters, but merely types. Sheer cleverness and Dahl’s tight, cutting prose makes all the stories worth reading, but it is probably best to space them out rather than read the collection as a book.