My Uncle Oswald, by Roald Dahl

If you took any good caper movie, turned it into a book, added a boatload of tongue-in-cheek licentiousness, and stuck the whole thing in a plummy P.G. Wodehouse-style setting, you’d still end up with a book that was nothing more than a pale shadow of Roald Dahl's 1979 novel My Uncle Oswald.

My Uncle Oswald opens with a brief note from the title character's nephew, who respectfully introduces us to his famous relative: "Oswald Hendryks Cornelius deceased, the connoisseur, the bon vivant, the collector of spiders, scorpions, and walking-sticks, the lover of opera, the expert on Chinese porcelain, the seducer of women, and without much doubt the greatest fornicator of all time". Uncle Oswald, says his admiring nephew, was a man that made Casanova look like he suffered from erectile dysfunction. The rest of the novel is made up of excerpts from Oswald's diary entries, carefully selected by his nephew, who assures us that the following story is sufficiently bland to be read by "the vicar to the Sunday school at the village church"... or at least tame enough to avoid serious litigation.

Oswald, as we learn from his diaries, is charming young man of staggering sexual prowess, ruthless ambition, and virtually no moral scruples. He makes his first fortune at seventeen, selling a crazed-lust-inducing pill (made from powdered Sudanese Blister Beetles) to the French. While the beetle scheme leaves him comfortably rich, Oswald is far from satisfied. He wants to have a million pounds before he's thirty, and a chance meeting with his old chemistry professor gives him the opportunity he's looking for. Oswald, the chemistry professor, and Oswald's wildly slinky friend Yasmin Howcomely hatch a plan to steal sperm samples from all of the great minds and celebrities of their generation, flash-freeze them, and sell the sperm on the black market.

Despite the prescience of a novel written in the late '70s (and set in the early 'teens) that featured sperm banks and Viagra-like pills, My Uncle Oswald has little or none of the social relevance that makes for powerful satire. (You can't debate the moral issues involved in sperm banks after reading about the sexual encounter between Yasmin, King Alfonzo of Spain, and King Alfonzo's mechanical chaise lounge. It simply isn’t possible.) This is a novel with no regard for the reputations of famous men; the scenes with Sigmund Freud, Bernard Shaw, and Marcel Proust (particularly Proust) are told with outrageously ribald humor. It has no interest in political correctness or the boundaries of good taste. ("I molested seven women!" gleefully shouts Mr. Mitsouko, an elderly Japanese diplomat who has bought one of Oswald's performance-enhancing beetle pills. "And these were not our dinky-tinky little Japanese women! No, no, no! They were enormous strong French wenchies!") This is a book without a single redeeming value. But, like Oswald and crew's exhausted-but-satisfied victims, I didn't care that I'd just spent thirteen dollars for a short, flimsy novel without point or moral. It may have been a meaningless fling, but it was still a really good time.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


29 Nov, 2004 10:18 AM @ version 0

It ain't classy, but it is funny, particularly if you've ever been forced to read Shaw or Joyce or Freud.

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