Book Review: 'Fear' by Roald Dahl
My opinions on a collection of short stories curated by Roald Dahl.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep and genuine love for literature. I've always played around with the idea of writing my own book reviews. I am fully aware that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer, but I love literature and hope this helps me improve my analytical skills as a writer. All the opinions shared in this post are my own opinions and I would love to hear back from you guys if you have a different interpretation of some of the stories.
To kick things off, I decided to review Roald Dahl's 'Fear'. The book is a collection of short stories selected by Dahl himself, including the works of Cynthia Asquith and Mary Treadgold. Obviously, this book is meant to appeal to older fans of Dahl and personally that is what motivated me to buy this book.
As a kid, I was a huge fan of his books from ‘Matilda’ to ‘James and the Giant Peach’. When I found out that Dahl had a series of book that was meant for his older fans, I knew I had to get my hands on them.
There are 8 books that make up the collection. Each one exploring a different theme. The themes are quite wide ranging; from ‘Lust’ to ‘Innocence’, and while I am certainly interested in acquiring the whole series, I decided to start my collection with ‘Fear’.
The book has a total of 14 short stories, each one of them embodying various facets of the theme fear. For this blog post however, I am going to summarise my 3 favourite short stories from the book.
1. Harry by Rosemary Timperley
The first story I would like to talk about is one by Rosemary Timperley, entitled ‘Harry’. Timperley begins and ends her tale with the exact same paragraph, “Such ordinary things make me afraid. Sunshine. Sharp shadows on grass. White roses children with red hair. And the name – harry. Such an ordinary name.” from a literary standpoint, this element helps the flow of the story. It symbolises the beginning and the end. It also adds a sense of finality to the protagonist’s words. The innocence of her words at first, confuses readers, but as the story develops, they come to understand how she can fear the most innocuous of things. Personally, I think that this helps solidify the sense of fear in the story. As readers, we question why should we fear such harmless things but as Timperley draws readers in, what we once considered to be harmless we now see in a different light.
Timperley masterfully embodies the theme of fear in various ways. Most notably, she creates an atmosphere of panic through her writing, using language and literature to emulate the horror that grips a parent’s heart when their child goes missing. In a more traditional sense, the main antagonist is a ghost. Fitting perfectly in the genre of horror stories. But in the context of the story, the fact that the protagonist loses her child to a ghost adds a sense of helplessness to the story. There is no way she is going to be reunited with her child because she is no longer present with us in our world. Finally, going back to the cyclical sense of the story, the echoing of the first paragraph solidifies the sense of hopelessness and dismay that if felt by the protagonist. Perhaps, this could also reflect the shattered mental state the protagonist is left in after the loss of her child.
2. W.S. by L.P. Hartley
One thing that stood out to me about this story was how Hartley managed to create a building sense of tension through his writing. Maybe this comes from the various postcards the protagonist receives or through the panic the protagonist himself feels. The use of postcards helps readers visualise the trail the villain is taking across the country. They themselves, can actually map out the path he takes, adding a sense of realism to the story. This technique also helps with the slow build up tension within the protagonist, as the locations depicted in the postcards gets closer, the more anxious and panicked we feel. Mirroring the nerves and emotions our protagonist feels. Eventually, the build up of tension reaches its limit and we are left with the consequences of this, the death of Walter Streeter (the main character). On a second reading, the postcard he receives acts almost like a countdown to his death and this tool Hartley used helps to create a suffocating and intense atmosphere.
Any avid reader will tell you that the villain plays a crucial role in any good story. That is no different in “W.S”. Hartley creates a villain that leaves readers shocked when they discover who he really is. Throughout the story, Walter is haunted by postcards delivered by the mysterious and elusive W.S. While there are many theories as to who the mystery man is, the revelation of his character is mind blowing. W.S turns out to be a character Walter created to be the villain in his novels, but now W.S wants revenge for everything he has been put through and is hunting Walter down slowly. By doing this, Hartley embodies fear in two different ways, one in a more animalistic way, Walter is being hunted down by the villain. This mimics the predator v prey relationship that exist in the wild. The way W.S taunts Walter adds to this feeling of being hunted down. In a more symbolic sense, the fact that Walter’s killer was a character he created reminds me of how an artist work killing them. W.S becomes the physical manifestation of an artist’s work that slowly haunts and kills them. I am reminded of artists like Van Gogh whose work ended up being their undoing. And like many others, Walter pays the ultimate price for his work, his life.
3. Playmates by A.M. Burrage
Out of all the stories in the book, “Playmates” is easily the most terrifying. A big part of this lies in the writing, Burrage is incredibly skilled as a horror author. His unique style of writing helps create an atmosphere that is haunting and chilling. From the descriptions of the house and countryside to the relationship between the characters, he expertly creates a ghost story that is unique and traditional at the same time. The characters he creates are equally disturbing, from Stephen Everton to his daughter Monica, they are both cold and distant to other characters. This makes it difficult for readers to emphatise with them. However, like all good horror stories, “Playmates” has the usual features of a scary story, a haunted house, a creepy child, a tragic backstory, and lots of dead children. All these factors mesh together brilliantly to produce a chilling tale that does not come across as being cheesy or cliché.
Like all the stories in this book, Burrage has masterfully captured the essence of fear in his story. In a more traditional sense, the ghosts of the dead children are the main source of fear in the story. That combined with how they blend into the darkness in empty rooms leaves readers fearing their own shadow. The fact that all the children died in such a tragic way adds to the sense of fear and isolation that seems to suffocate the main characters of the story. To me, Burrage adds another layer of fear in his writing, the unnaturally cold and distant relationship Stephen has with his daughter. The idea that two family members could not express their love for each other and treat each other like strangers is another form of fear. By portraying their relationship in this way, readers can feel the loneliness and isolation that surrounds the Everton household.