Sex is the primary subject that connects all four short stories in renowned children’s author Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch together. Not just any sex, but for the most part frivolous in nature, at some times life-changing, in other cases mind-numbing, and in rare instances an awakening, but always somewhat fulfilling. There is also a personal journey of sorts found throughout these stories and the majority of the main characters. Oswald Hendrycks Cornelius is the subject of two of these stories and when he is not searching for his next few-hour fling, he is on the hunt for the elusive and large female opisthophthalmus, more commonly known as the scorpion. Oswald has his personal life’s pleasures outside of his notorious thirst for women: he is into Chinese porcelain, he’s an opera enthusiast never shy to sing Verdi’s Otello, purchasing walking sticks with elaborate handles; but in The Visitor, the hunt for the scorpion takes him to the Sinai desert and presents him with many problems that will challenge his willpower with respect to his insatiable appetite for the fairer sex and his desire to find the treasure that eludes him.
Thou shalt not cover thy neighbour’s wife. Victor Hammond is married to his beautiful, yet straitlaced wife Mary. At a cocktail party he can’t get over how stunning his friend and neighbor Samantha Rainbow looks mingling with guests. Like Michael Caine from Hannah & Her Sisters, something about her bottom lip makes his loins quiver and his imagination run wild. The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the lips are the doorway to true profound pleasure. Using the power of persuasion with Sam’s husband Jerry, Victor conjures up an extravagant and well-organized plot to get a little taste of the forbidden. In The Great Switcheroo you truly realize the gravity of the old saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ as some things are best left to imagination.
“Samantha was seated opposite me and whenever she leaned forward with her face close to the flame, I could see that tiny crest of skin at the top centre of her lower lip. ‘Now,’ she said as she accepted a menu from the waiter, ‘ I wonder what I’m going to have tonight. Ho-ho-ho, I thought, that’s a good question.”
In the fourth and final story Uncle Oswald finds himself in gay Paris. He is contacted by a decrepit looking creature and equally wicked little man in olfactory chemist Henri Biotte. As hideous as he may look there is no doubting his passion for his work and the desire to rule the world with his science. The problem is, is that he needs financial resources in order to move forward. After hearing out Henri’s master plan for his concoction Oswald can’t help but be overjoyed by the possibilities. This story reminded me of David Cronenberg’s film The Fly, and more specifically, the after effects of Seth Brundle’s first go round in the telepod. I would give an arm and a leg to…….no wait, I think I’ll pass.
“Simone was a slim thirtyish woman with a pleasant scrubbed face. Her hair was brushed back and plaited into a bun. This, together with the white spectacles, the white overall, and the white skin of her face, gave her a quaint antiseptic air. She looked as though she had been sterilised for thirty minutes in an autoclave and should be handled with rubber gloves. She gazed at the boxer with large brown eyes.
‘Let’s get going.’ Henri said. ‘Are you ready?’ “
In The Last Act, Anna Cooper gets the most horrifying news imaginable when she is startled to find two police officers knocking on her front door. All alone, she can’t go on, her love is completely gone and her world is shattered to pieces. With a final decision made, she is abruptly pulled from the abject part of her mind back into the real world reconciling her life’s purpose. Back in the swing of things she finds solace in hard work. At the feeling of loneliness she contacts an old friend and while she’s enjoying the company, he can’t shake the feeling of looking at the one that got away.
You can definitely see a connection to his child writing ways in his playfulness with language and the joy that is palpable when leaping through the pages. There is a feeling that the author was snickering while writing and almost grateful for a release from having to be on his best behaviour all the time. I also liked how there really was no protagonist, most of the characters had something working against them to fall in favour with the reader, and ultimately left me laughing at their various misfortunes. Oswald is a complete wad who is a constant philanderer and a selfish lover at that. He can’t relate to the working class and walks along keeping people at arms length because of his prejudices or his hypochondriac nature. He’s regarded as a hero for knowing thousands and thousands of woman but I would call him an intriguing character because he is a legendary, wealthy, wandering, regimented, bachelor; you know there’s fun to be had with that guy, especially when he finds himself in 1940’s Africa of all places.
“The man’s vitality was unbelievable. He was always on the move, from city to city, from country to country, from woman to woman, and in between the women, he would be searching for spiders in Kashmir or tracking down a blue porcelain vase in Nanking. But the women always came first. Wherever he went, he left an endless trail of females in his wake, females ruffled and ravished beyond words, but purring like cats.”
I found every story quite compelling. I had the expectation that these would be scary and frightening from a visual interpretation standpoint, but I couldn’t help but be totally enthralled by the hilarity that ensued; I mean what person doesn’t love a little dexterity in their sexual partner. There are moments of sadness and compassion when it came to an inhumane abuse of power leading to a coercion of one’s self-actualization, but around the corner your left embracing your own passion and angered at the author for kissing but not telling, or perhaps not telling enough for your own liking. Something about vices and the lengths people will go to fulfill their need makes for plenty of sad and funny moments. What your left feeling as a reader is the true power of desire, and the rewards and repercussions that take place when choices are presented, or decisions are forced to be made. I enjoyed my time reading these four short stories.
“A trout jumped high in midstream and the sunlight flashed on its body. ‘You must forget,’ said Monsieur Biotte, ‘all the nonsense about musk and ambergris and the testicular secretion of the civet cat. We make our perfumes from chemicals these days. If I want a musky odour I will use ethylene sebacate. Phenylacetic acid will give me civet and benzaldehyde will provide the smell of almonds. No sir, I am no longer interested in mixing up chemicals to make pretty smells.”