“Dog Race”

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Plot Description

This is from the “Claud’s Dog” series of stories that were first published in Someone Like You.

Spoiler warning! The narrator Gordon and his friend Claud are exceptionally nervous, because they’re about to pull off the biggest scam of their lives. They’re off to the greyhound racing track with their dog Jackie. Claud knows everything there is to know about greyhound racing, and he’s sure they’ve got a winner. Four months before Claud bought a dog that turned out to be a dead ringer for Jackie, but couldn’t run fast at all. They’ve been running the slow dog at the track for the past eight weeks to make sure that he gets moved into the bottom racing grade. Now they plan on running Jackie and placing all their money on him to win. The only obstacle is Mr. Feasey, who runs the track. He has an incredible memory and is able to spot an imposter dog from a mile away. Once they get to the track, they’re horrified when Mr. Feasey tells them that he doesn’t intend to let them run their “champion” anymore. As a last resort, Claud bets Mr. Feasey a pound that Jackie won’t come in last place. This piques Feasey’s interest, and he inspects the dog closely. Satisfied that it’s the same dog, he accepts the bet and allows Jackie into the first race. While Claud gets Jackie ready and bribes the winder (the man who pulls the rabbit that the dogs chase), Gordon goes down the row of bookies placing bets on Jackie. He stands to win over two thousand pounds. The race begins and Jackie wins easily. Mr. Feasey is furious and tells them that they’re banned from the track in the future. Claud takes Jackie back to the van while Gordon goes to collect their winnings. When he gets there, though, the first bookie won’t pay and says he backed another dog. All the details are in the bookmaker’s book, but he won’t let Gordon see it. None of the other bookies will pay out either. “You’re a thief! A lousy little thief!” Gordon yells. “Well, I never,” says the bookie. “Look who’s talking!” Everyone laughs as Gordon sees Claud waiting for him with a suitcase in hand for the money.


“The Butler Did It”

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Plot Description

Spoiler warning! This is a very short little story in which a British butler and a French chef outwit an obnoxious nouveau riche millionaire (probably meant to be American, judging by his name and accent). This millionaire, Mr. Cleaver, wants desperately to become the toast of society. He throws dinner many dinner parties, but none of them ever really seems to “come off.” The butler, Tibbs, explains that this is because the host serves the guests a “cheap and very odious Spanish red [wine].” At his employer’s request, then, Tibbs begins stocking the wine cellar with some of the most rare and exquisite and expensive wines in the world. Mr. Cleaver even studies to become a wine connoiseur. The parties, however, do not improve. Tibbs then explains that this is because Mr. Cleaver has instructed the chef to prepare the salad dressing with vinegar. Vinegar, he explains, is the enemy of wine and leaves you unable to taste it. “Hogwash,” says his employer. That very same night Mr. Cleaver begins to expound upon the virtues of the French wine he believes he is drinking… until Tibbs points out that it is the same cheap and odious Spanish red that he has always served. He claims that great wines should be revered and that he and Monsieur Estragon, the chef, have finished all of the bottles themselves. Then he walks out the door to the waiting car Monsieur Estragon has already packed with their belongings.


“A Picture for Drioli”

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Plot Description

Spoiler warning! The year is 1946 and an old man named Drioli shuffles across the Parisian street in the freezing cold. He stops before a picture gallery to admire the painting in the window… and suddenly recognizes the name of the artist. “Chaim Soutine… My little Kalmuck, that’s who it is!” Drioli remembers a night thirty years before, when he had come home from his tattoo parlor flush with cash and bearing bottles of wine. The boy (Soutine) had been painting a picture of Drioli’s wife, with whom he was infatuated. The three of them get very drunk and Drioli comes up with an idea – he wants the boy to paint a picture on his back and then tattoo over it! The boy only agrees when Drioli’s wife Josie says she will pose for the picture. It takes all night, but eventually the picture is finished and signed. Not long after, the boy disappeared and they never saw him again. Josie died during the second World War and Drioli’s tattooing business collapsed. Now, in the present, he is reduced to begging in the streets. He decides to go in and see the other Soutine pictures on display. The gallery workers try to throw him out, but before they can he takes off his shirt and shows the crowd his tattooed back. They are amazed and immediately several men offer to buy the painting from him. Eventually Drioli is faced with a choice: one man offers to pay for a major skin-grafting operation, while another simply asks Drioli to come live at his hotel (the Bristol in Cannes) and exhibit the painting to his guests. Drioli chooses the latter and goes off to dinner with the man. Not long after, a strange painting by Soutine shows up for sale in Buenos Aires. And, the narrator tells us, there is no hotel called the Bristol in Cannes.


“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

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  • Connections:
    • In 1952 Dahl wrote an article about the famous Pakistani mystic Kuda Bux, who inspired this story. He reworked a great portion of that text into Imhrat Khan’s tale. You can read about differences between the texts here.

Plot Description

This story was inspired by the real life Pakistani mystic Kuda Bux, who claimed to be able to see without his eyes.

Spoiler warning! This famous tale is actually a story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story. We start with Henry Sugar, a wealthy and idle playboy who likes to gamble and is not above cheating to win. One summer weekend, Henry is staying at a friend’s mansion and is depressed at the neverending rain outside. Bored, he wanders into the library and discovers a blue exercise book one one of the shelves. On the first page is written: “A Report on an Interview with Imhrat Khan, the Man Who Could See Without His Eyes” by Dr. John Cartwright. Henry sits down to read the whole thing.

Now we get to read Dr. Cartwright’s report. He explains that one day he was in the doctor’s lounge at his hospital in Bombay, when an Indian man entered and asked for assistance. He claimed to be able to see without his eyes. Cartwright and three other doctors agreed to help him promote his theatre show by bandaging his eyes completely. When they are finished, they are amazed to see him ride off on his bicycle through heavy traffic. That night, Cartwright goes to see Khan’s show. Afterwards, he invites Khan to dinner and asks him to tell him how he learned this amazing trick. Khan agreeds to tell him.

Now we get Khan’s story. As a young boy, he was fascinated with magic and ran off to be a magician’s assistant. He was terribly disappointed to realize it was all trickery and sleight of hand. He decides he wants to learn the strange power called yoga. It’s hard to find a teacher, because Khan wanted to learn yoga for fame and fortune, but real yogis are threatened with death if they perform in public. Eventually Khan manages to locate a yogi called Banerjee, and he watches in secret as Banerjee levitates during meditation. The yogi discovers him and becomes enraged, chasing him off. Khan comes back every day, though, and eventually the Banerjee agrees to recommend him to a yogi friend for instruction. So Khan finally begins the yoga training. He learns about concentrating the conscious mind. He describes all the exercises he does. He has a minor success when he’s able to walk across a firepit with barefeet. Eventually he succeeds in seeing without his eyes. He can even see through playing cards.

Doctor Cartwright is amazed with Imhrat Khan’s story. He decides that it must be published, that Khan’s abilities might pave the way towards helping the blind see and the deaf hear. Before he can speak to him again the next day, though, he learns that Khan has died in his sleep.

Now back to Henry Sugar. He finishes the story and decides to try the yoga training himself. He wants to be able to see through playing cards and win in casinos. He steals the book and begins to practice at home. He begins to make progress immediately, and discovers that he’s one of the one-in-a-million people that can develop yoga powers with amazing speed. Three years later, Henry can see through a playing card in less than four seconds. He goes immediately to a big London casino and proceeds to win over six thousand pounds. When he gets home, though, he realizes that he doesn’t feel as happy as he expected. The yoga training has changed his outlook on life. In the morning, he throws a twenty pound note to someone on the street and realizes that charity makes him feel good. Without a thought, he throws the entire pile out the window. A riot ensues and a policeman comes to question him. Henry is astonished when the policeman berates him for not giving the money to a worthy cause, like a hospital or orphanage. Henry decides the policeman is right and formulates a plan. For the next twenty years, Henry travels the world winning fortunes at casinos and sending it to his personal accountant in Switzerland. The accountant sets up orphanages in every country Henry visits. Henry also has a personal make-up artist who travels with him so he doesn’t get recognized. By the time he dies, he has won over one hundred and forty-four million pounds and set up over twenty orphanages.

Now we get to the last story. The author (presumably Dahl) explains that John Winston, Henry’s accountant, called him not long after Henry’s death. He wanted the world to know what Henry had done. The author is fascinated with the tale and agrees to write it up and protect Henry’s true identity. And the finished result is the story that we’ve just read.


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“The Umbrella Man”

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Plot Description

Spoiler warning! The narrator of this story is a 12-year-old girl who has gone to London with her mother to visit the dentist. The girl has a tooth filled, and then she and her mother go to a café afterwards. When it’s time to go home, they discover that it’s pouring rain and they have no umbrella. They decide to get a taxi. While they’re watching for a cab, an old gentleman sheltering under an umbrella approaches them. He asks for a favor. The girl’s mother is very distrustful of strange men. The old man explains that he has forgotten his wallet and would like to sell them his umbrella in return for taxi fare back to his home. He explains that it’s a very nice silk umbrella worth twenty pounds, but his legs are weak and he simply must take a taxi home. The mother likes the sound of the deal, but the little girl worries that they’re taking advantage of the old man. The mother offers to simply give him the cab fare, but he insists that they take the umbrella. The transaction is made and everyone is happy.

As the mother is proudly explaining the importance of correctly judging people, the daughter notices that the old man has quickly crossed the street and is hurrying away. “He doesn’t look very tired to me,” she said. The mother is displeased. “He’s up to something.” They decide to follow him and find out. They quickly follow him as he rushes through the rainy streets. Eventually they find themselves at a pub called “The Red Lion” and watch through the window as the old man enters and uses the pound note to pay for a triple whiskey. “That’s a jolly expensive drink,” said the little girl. “It cost him a twenty-pound silk umbrella!” They watch as the old man finishes his drink and goes to retrieve his coat and hat. Just before he leaves the pub, he smoothly plucks a wet umbrella from the coat rack and takes it with him. “So that’s his game!” the mother explained. They see him head back to the main street and sell the umbrella to another unsuspecting person. Then he heads off in another direction for another pub. “He could be doing this all night,” the girl says. “Yes, of course,” says the mother. “But I’ll be he prays like mad for rainy days.”


“Taste”

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Plot Description

Spoiler warning! The setting for this story is a dinner party at the home of stock broker Mike Schofield. The guests include Schofield and his wife and daughter, the narrator and his wife, and a man called Richard Pratt. Pratt is a famous gourmet and enjoys showing off his knowledge of fine wine and food. He is also a thoroughly unpleasant man. Both times prior that Pratt dined with Schofield, the two men made a curious bet: Schofield bet that Pratt could not identify some special wine that he had procured for the night. Pratt had always won. On the night this story takes place, Schofield thinks that he will finally win one over on the gourmet. He has a very rare bottle of claret from a tiny chateau in France, and he boasts that Pratt will never be able to guess it. Pratt, who had been spending the night engrossed in conversation with Schofield’s daughter Louise, takes the bet and asks to up the stakes. He offers to bet two of his houses against the hand of Louise in marriage. Both Louise and her mother are against it, but Schofield manages to convince them to accept. He believes that Pratt has no chance of winning. Pratt then proceeds to smell and taste the wine, and he slowly begins to narrow down its possible origin. Eventually he gets the correct answer and Schofield sits there horrified. Just as Pratt is starting to get nasty about the bet, the house maid appears at his arm and offers him his spectacles, which he had misplaced earlier. He takes no notice of her, but she stands her ground and reminds him (rather loudly) that he left them in Mr. Schofield’s study on top of the filing cabinet when he went in there that evening… which is just where Pratt, on a previous visit, had advised Schofield to leave his wines to “breathe”. In other words, he cheated!


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Covers

Taste
Redpath Press, 1986

Spanish Covers

Nórdica Libros, 2016
Nórdica Libros, 2016

“The Surgeon”

Sections: Information | Plot Description | Magazine Scan


Information

  • First published:
    • January 1988 issue of Playboy
    • 12 pages
    • Artwork by Bruce Wolfe

Plot Description

Spoiler warning! Dr. Robert Sandy has recently saved the life of a Saudi Arabian prince, and as a reward he is given a very large diamond. Sandy is amazed when his local jeweler tells him it’s worth almost a million dollars. He rushes home to show it to his wife, who is just as excited. They’re going away for the weekend, though, so they decide to freeze the diamond into an ice cube tray in order to hide it from any thieves. When they return, they are shocked to see that their house has, in fact, been burgled. Everything in their kitchen has been smashed and thrown on the floor, including the contents of the freezer. The police are called and search everywhere, but they can’t locate the diamond. The next day, another surgeon at the hospital is operating on a young man with something lodged in his intestine. To the surgeon’s amazement, it is a large diamond. He and one of the hospital theatre sisters take it to the local jeweler to have it appraised. The jeweler recognizes it as Dr. Sandy’s and calls the police. Sandy is also notified, and by the time he gets to the shop the surgeon and sister are both in handcuffs. Sandy recognizes him and they tell him their story. He has the police release them and tells them to head to the hospital to arrest the recovering thief. The young hooligan had evidently made himself a drink in Dr. Sandy’s house, and he’d swallowed the ice cube!


Magazine Scan

January 1988 issue of Playboy Magazine

"The Surgeon" Magazine Scan


“Skin”

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Plot Description

Spoiler warning! The year is 1946 and an old man named Drioli shuffles across the Parisian street in the freezing cold. He stops before a picture gallery to admire the painting in the window… and suddenly recognizes the name of the artist. “Chaim Soutine… My little Kalmuck, that’s who it is!” Drioli remembers a night thirty years before, when he had come home from his tattoo parlor flush with cash and bearing bottles of wine. The boy (Soutine) had been painting a picture of Drioli’s wife, with whom he was infatuated. The three of them get very drunk and Drioli comes up with an idea – he wants the boy to paint a picture on his back and then tattoo over it! The boy only agrees when Drioli’s wife Josie says she will pose for the picture. It takes all night, but eventually the picture is finished and signed. Not long after, the boy disappeared and they never saw him again. Josie died during the second World War and Drioli’s tattooing business collapsed. Now, in the present, he is reduced to begging in the streets. He decides to go in and see the other Soutine pictures on display. The gallery workers try to throw him out, but before they can he takes off his shirt and shows the crowd his tattooed back. They are amazed and immediately several men offer to buy the painting from him. Eventually Drioli is faced with a choice: one man offers to pay for a major skin-grafting operation, while another simply asks Drioli to come live at his hotel (the Bristol in Cannes) and exhibit the painting to his guests. Drioli chooses the latter and goes off to dinner with the man. Not long after, a strange painting by Soutine shows up for sale in Buenos Aires. And, the narrator tells us, there is no hotel called the Bristol in Cannes.


“Pig”

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Information

  • Note: Sometimes confused with Stanley Ellin’s famous short story “Specialty of the House,” which is about a restaurant that serves a very special lamb dish. Ellin’s story was published in 1948, whereas Dahl’s didn’t appear until 1960.

Plot Description

This is a pretty gruesome story and it’s not one of my favorites. I think Dahl was probably trying to comment on the way this cruel world takes innocents like Lexington and basically puts them through the meat-grinder. Except in this case… it’s literal. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this one for the kiddies.

Spoiler warning! Once upon a time, a boy named Lexington is born in New York City. Unfortunately he is soon orphaned when his parents are accidentally shot by the police, who mistake them for robbers. Lexington is sent to live with his Aunt Glosspan out in her cottage high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is an eccentric old woman who schools him herself and raises him to be a strict vegetarian. As he grows older, Lexington starts to exhibit a talent for cooking and Aunt Glosspan encourages him to write a cookbook. By the time he is 17, he has invented over 9,000 different dishes. He is shocked when Aunt Glosspan suddenly dies, though, and he buries her himself behind the cowshed. The next day he finds a letter she has left him instructing him to go to New York and meet with her lawyer. Apparently the lawyer will read her Will and then give Lexington money to pursue his cooking ambitions. Unfortunately for the boy, the lawyer is an unscrupulous man who takes advantage of Lexington’s trusting nature and ends up giving him just $15,000 out of the $500,000 his Aunt left for him. Upon leaving the office, Lexington decides he is hungry and heads to the nearest restaurant for some dinner. To his surprise, he is served pork for the first time in his life and he finds it delicious. Eager to learn about this new food for his book, he bribes the waiter to take him back into the kitchen to meet the chef. The chef tells him though, that he can’t be sure it was pig’s meat. “There’s just a chance,” he says, “that it might have been a piece of human stuff.” He tells Lexington that they’ve been getting an awful lot of it from the butcher lately. He’s pretty sure that the piece Lexington had was pork though, so the boy asks him to show him how to prepare it. The cook says that it all begins with a properly butchered pig. Wanting to see how this is done, Lexington takes off for the packing-house in the Bronx. When he gets there he is ushered into a waiting room to await the Guided Tour. He watches as others go through the doors before him: a mother with two little boys, a young couple, and a pale woman with long white gloves. Finally his turn is called, and he is led to the “schackling area” where the pigs are grabbed, looped about the ankle with a chain, and then dragged up through a hole in the roof. While he is watching, one of the workers slips a chain around Lexington’s ankle and before he knows what is happening he is being dragged along the path as well. “Help!” he cries. “There’s been a frightful mistake!” But no one stops the engine, and he’s carried along to the sticker, who slices open the boy’s jugular vein with a knife. As the belt moves on and Lexington begins to feel faint, he sees the pigs ahead being dropped into a large cauldron of boiling water. One of the pigs seems to be wearing white gloves. Lexington’s strong heart pumps out the last of his blood, and he passes on “out of this, the best of all possible worlds, into the next.”


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“Parson’s Pleasure”

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Plot Description

Spoiler warning! Mr. Cyril Boggis is an antiques dealer in Chelsea, London. He doesn’t have a large shop, but he still manages to make a tidy income each year by buying the most remarkable pieces of furniture at very, very cheap prices and selling them for immense profits. His friends in the trade wonder where he finds such rare items so regularly. It turns out that Mr. Boggis’s scheme is rather simple: he dresses up as a clergyman and visits English farmhouses under the pretenses of writing articles for the Society for the Preservation of Rare Furniture. When he finds something valuable, he makes the person an offer and then sells the item in his shop for twenty times as much. On this particular trip he’s canvassing the county of Buckinghamshire and comes across three locals (Claud, Bert, and Rummins) near a dirty, ramshackle farmhouse. Once he convinces them to let him inside, he is flabbergasted to see a Chippendale Commode standing in the living room. The Commodes were made by the famous 18th-century furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, and only three others were known to be in existence. Boggis nearly faints when he realizes that this piece could fetch up to twenty thousand pounds in an auction. He recovers, though, and mentions that he needs a new set of legs for a table he has at home. The ones on the commode, he says, would just fit. Rummins is doubtful, and so Boggis cons him into thinking that the piece is simply a worthless Victorian reproduction. He finally ends up purchasing the commode for the grand total of twenty pounds. After he leaves to get his car, the three men decide to help him out by cutting the legs off for him. Rummins also speculates that the parson might back out of the deal if he can’t fit the entire piece into his car (he doesn’t know that Boggis has a station wagon), so Claud takes an axe and breaks the commode to pieces. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he says. “That was a bloody good carpenter put this job together and I don’t care what the parson says.” At that moment, Mr. Boggis drives up in his car.


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