Innocence by Roald Dahl – review

Published by Penguin

Publication date – 10 August 2017

Source – review copy

There’s a whole world of Dahl still to discover in a newly collected book of his deliciously dark tales for adults . . .

What makes us innocent and how do we come to lose it? Featuring the autobiographical stories telling of Roald Dahl’s boyhood and youth as well as four further tales of innocence betrayed, Dahl touches on the joys and horrors of growing up.

Among other stories, you’ll read about the wager that destroys a girl’s faith in her father, the landlady who has plans for her unsuspecting young guest and the commuter who is horrified to discover that a fellow passenger once bullied him at school.

Featuring extraordinary cover art by Charming Baker, whose paintings echo the dark and twisted world of Dahl’s short stories.

Without making sweeping generalisations most people have childhood memories that contain Roald Dahl. Many of us will have read at least one of his books, seen one of the film adaptations. Some of us may have memories of devouring all of the books of his they could find, one after the other.

I had read Boy years ago and retained a blurred memory of having loved the tales of his childhood, though I wouldn’t have been able to tell you any of those stories. As I read, the memories came back, this time with them, the overwhelming sense of creative mastery. The stories foretell the inspiration behind those works of genius still to come. The testing of chocolate in boarding school sowing the seeds of inspiration for the iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the mouse in the gobstobbers perhaps the idea behind The Witches.

What is clear from this collection is that the reader becomes aware they are reading work from a fine story teller, one who has indeed mastered the craft. Every part of Boy is fascinating, from the history of how his parents met to how he gained the opportunity to go to Africa through his work. He is quite open with how joyous some memories are, and how difficult other periods of his life were to endure.

The other stories in the collection are also interesting to read. The theme of innocence is threaded throughout. This could be the innocence of a bullying victim, the innocence judged on outward appearance or innocence assumed to be lacking in another. Having read Boy first, the inspiration for some of the short stories or indeed on one occasion the possible inspiration for Boy, is apparent. I’m sure there was some cathartic quality to some of the writing but also a lesson being told – ‘this happened to me, just like possibly did to you. I’m still ok, I’ve made a success of my life and you can too’.

There are hints of the darker tones that thread throughout his other novels. Adept at show not tell, undercurrents of threat and malice are generated by the reader, whist the story itself may on first appearance be innocent. This should come as no surprise to most readers familiar with Roald Dahl. He is famous not just for his children’s stories but also for his adult fiction such as Tales of the Unexpected and the memorable short story Lamb to the Slaughter. Even his children’s books feature threatening enemies, warnings of the results of being spoiled and situations that boarder on child neglect.

Innocence is part of a new collection being reissued by Penguin. Together with Fear, Trickery and War the quartet has been curated with further works by Dahl and by authors he admired and given covers featuring striking artwork by Charming Baker.

Reading Innocence reawakened in me the love of Roald Dahl’s work. Granted this wasn’t love that was very dormant as I am now at the stage of encouraging my children to read his work, or at least have it read to them. As I read more of Boy and the other short stories I realised just how important his stories were to my childhood and the millions of other children who have read his books over the years. The genius of storytelling is, to me, to be able to engage a diverse audience, to hold them rapt, whatever their background. To have your stories told for decades after they were written and for new audiences to fall in love with them. To be able to draw a reader completely into a world that they are immersed. I hate to use the word genius lightly but in Roald Dahl’s case it is a title to which is justly warranted. Innocence is a glimpse into that genius, one that made me want to re-read more of his tales. Highly recommended.

Innocence was book 14 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    He was much darker than we might think, given his children’s stories (and yet the darkness is there also). I have to try and find this one. I have his Tales of the Unexpected, but not much else for adults.


    1. janetemson says:

      They are dark, and I think it’s more obvious when you read them as an adult, even his children’s stories. I think that’s one of the things that kids and adults love about them. The lack of shine and ‘Disney’ polish on them.


  2. Book Snail Reads says:

    The Landlady haunted me when I was growing up – I definitely need to buy this.


    1. janetemson says:

      The Landlady is one of the stories in this – and yes it is haunting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Quiet Knitter says:

    Wow I need to add this to my buy list! Fantastic review Janet 👍


  4. Wonderful review! Loved his stories as a child and Tales of the Unexpected as an adult, so this will definitely be on my to buy list.


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks. It has re-ignited or at least reminded me of how wonderful his stories are. I’m going to have to read more. Hope you like this if you read it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fab review, Janet. I remember The Landlady too and it was one that I’m pretty sure we did at school. I think it inspired me to write something similar at the time.


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks. It’s great that he inspired you to write something similar. I think he was a great influence on many writers. It’s easy to see why his stories are still popular today after reading this.


  6. I need a copy of this – I loved Roald Dahl books as a child and still have a copy of his Tales of the Unexpected and I ‘met’ him as a child as he lived near to where I was born. And then I got to rediscover his older work and his newer books through my children – The BFG was the first ‘proper’ book my daughter read and so there was great excitement last year in this house for the Spielberg film!
    What a wonderful choice for your 20 Books of Summer and a brilliant review!


    1. janetemson says:

      Thank you. You do need a copy. I’m in awe you met him, how wonderful. I’m helping my children discover the joy of his books. In fact we are reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the moment. Though my husband is also keen to read it to them as well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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