This is the second set of short stories I’ve read from the pocket Penguin collection in a week, and I have to confess that, self-confessed literary snob though I am, I preferred the Dahl collection to the Borges. I’d taught The Landlady a couple of times, and so the construction felt more blatant – prior knowledge rather steals some of the fun when it comes to twists – but I hadn’t read Taste before, and I loved it. This was reading for sheer enjoyment and Dahl builds up the narrative brilliantly. Despite the characterisation often feeling fairly obvious, you still want to know how it ends. Mike Schofield, a stockbroker aspiring to culture and class, is having a dinner party. One of the guests, a Mr Richard Pratt, is a ‘famous gourmet’. Over supper, Mike playfully challenges his guest to guess the name and origin of the expensive wine he is serving. The atmosphere change as the stakes are raised, and the outcome is wonderfully unexpected.
‘… everyone was watching Richard Pratt, watching his face as he reached slowly for his glass with his right hand and lifted it to his nose. The man was about fifty ears old and did not have a pleasant face. Somehow, it was all mouth – mouth and lips – the full, wet lips of the professional gourmet’.
Yes, the language is not always that subtle, but Pratt as a monstrous figure is a highly effective mechanism for watching this lesson about risk play out.
The other story in the collection, The Way Up To Heaven, is less melodramatic, but no less gratifying at the end. Mrs Forster, a reasonably wealthy New Yorker, has a husband who would now be regarded as emotionally abusive. The characterisation here is quieter but perhaps more satisfying for it. All three stories are masterclasses in providing twists in the tale, and a reminder of the darkness in Dahl’s writing.