Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar - Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and six more contains six short stories and the eponymous novella, which is a story within a story within a story. Henry Sugar is a vain and very wealthy man who finds a small exercise book in which a Dr Cartwright records the life story of an Indian man who practices yoga and learns to see without his eyes. Sugar decides to master this skill himself in order to learn how to "see through" playing cards so that he can cheat at card games in casinos. The novella is an interesting story of how greed can sometimes lead to charity, and Dahl keeps his readers guessing about where his story is going to lead us, and being the master of the unexpected he takes us somewhere quite different to where we thought we would go.

The other six stories in this collection share a similar theme of people who possess extraordinary powers, particularly "The Hitchhiker", "The Boy Who Talked With Animals" and "The Swan."

The first story in the collection is "The Boy Who Talked With Animals" which tells the tale of a young boy who saves an old turtle from being killed, apparently by talking to it. For me this is the most moving story in the collection.

In "The Hitchhiker" a writer gives a strange man a lift to the races. This hitchhiker possesses an incredible skill of picking pockets and puts it to use very effectively !

"The Swan" is a story about a boy who suffers at the hands of two quite appalling teenage bullies and how he manages to escape from them before being badly injured. This is quite a surreal story of "mind over matter" and is rather gruesome, something Dahl does quite well.

"The Mildenhall Treasure" is apparently a true story which deals with the idea of luck rather than strange powers, and is an intriguing study of jealousy, betrayal, and the laws of possession.

"Lucky Break" is an autobiographical tale and any reader who has read Dahl's autobiography Boy, will notice the similarities between this piece and his reminiscences of his time at Repton.

The final piece is "A Piece Of Cake", a war story with many layers, which tells the tale of a pilot who is shot down and his unconscious thoughts.

The collection is intriguing and interesting, featuring more realism, albeit of a largely supernatural nature, than pure fiction.


Anonymous said...

I think A Piece of Cake is also an autobiography extract, from Going Solo, about his adult life. All good!

Michele said...

You're quite right. I hadn't actually read "A Piece of Cake" when I reviewed the collection.