Roald Dahl, The Way Up to Heaven (1954)

Cross-posted at A Curious Singularity

When I was a kid, Roald Dahl scared the hell out of me, with some creepy stories like Matilda or the Witches. I was specially haunted by black-and-white ink drawings by Quentin Blake (I guess they were originally coloured, but I had the cheap paperback version), and it stopped me from going much further into Dahl’s books. I’m happy, more than twenty years later, that A Curious Singularity gives me the opportunity for a second look!

 

And the second look proves just slightly less scary than the first, even as a grown-up! There’s something creepy and ominous right from the start, or at least from the third paragraph on:

“his manner so bland that it was hard to believe he wasn’t purposely inflicting a nasty private little torture of his own on the unhappy lady. And one thing he must have known – that she would never dare to call out and tell him to hurry. He had disciplined her too well for that. He must also have known that if he was prepared to wait even beyond the last moment of safety, he could drive her nearly into hysterics. On one or two special occasions in the later years of their married life, it seemed almost as though he had wanted to miss the train simply in order to intensify the poor woman’s suffering.”

The relationship between the mousey Mrs. Foster, who has an “almost pathological fear of missing a train, a plane, a boat, or even a theatre curtain” and her husband, this “diminutive but still quite dapper old man with the huge bearded face” is nothing short of passive-aggressiveness. They look harmless enough from the outside but their private life must be hell — Oh, but when it’s mentioned that “few people came to visit them” in their “gloomy place”, it may be that they can’t really hide their behaviour in front of guests either…. The story tells of a period that seems far away, where wives were obedient and fearful, where people had four servants and where airport formalities took half an hour (lol), yet I’m sure we all know some dysfunctional couples like them, who put a strain wherever they go with nasty little remarks in public. The tension builds up quite nicely and the twist at the end… mh, I won’t say more about it. I didn’t find it openly funny, but I kind of liked that perfect Mrs. Foster was able to exact a calm revenge and enjoy her stay in Paris…

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