Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl
I don’t believe there could be a single person reading this article that is not aware of the world famous children’s author, Roald Dahl. But what many people aren’t aware of is that he produced a number of books for teenagers and adults too.
As children, most of us were touched by his incredible imagination in one way or another, through Matilda, The Witches or James and the Giant Peach, so it’s hard to understand why so many people don’t follow his work as they grow. I am guilty of this literary sin myself but thankfully I’ve been able to put this right by delving into the pages of ‘Skin and Other Stories.’
This collection of short stories was first published in the ’40s (apart from The Surgeon which was first published in a 1988 edition of Playboy Magazine). The collection contains eleven short stories and an introduction by writer, editor and children’s literary champion, Wendy Cooling. Introductions such as these have a tendency to leave me cold, but there’s such incredible passion in Cooling’s words that my eyes were watering before I’d even gotten to Dahl’s work.
The first story in the collection is what drew me to the book, the tattoo-themed Skin. We’re introduced to an elderly gentleman, Drioli, as he walks the windy streets of Paris. The war ruined his business as a tattooist and he’s been struggling to make mend meet ever since. But then he sees a painting in a gallery window that takes his breath away. On closer inspection and after spotting the signature on the artwork, Driolo realises he knows the artist. Many years ago they were friends and drank to good times together.
One of these (drunken) evenings, Drioli convinced the young artists to use his tattoo guns to tattoo his beautiful wife on his back. Drioli hadn’t thought about the artist or his tattoo in years, but he realises that the entire gallery was filled with the artist’s work and so runs into the gallery, pulling off his top to show his priceless artwork. The collectors surround him like vultures, but how does a man sell his own skin?
Other gems from this collection also include the story of a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, a lost million dollar diamond and gambling on the high seas. Dahl’s surreal humour is completely timeless and his dark undertones are coated with such a bouncy, fun writing style so that you almost don’t realise how sinister the stories are until you reflect upon them. There aren’t many stories of a wife murdering her husband that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. With tales as dark as Tim Burton and just as modern, this collection really is a joy from the first page to the last.