cover image Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

Roald Dahl, Cremlyn. Alfred A. Knopf, $18.95 (179pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58265-8

Rereading the seven stories collected here, observes Dahl in his preface, fills the British author with ``acute nostalgia and with vivid memories of those sweet days'' after WW II, when he wrote for four hours a day and then set off for the rolling, rural landscape of England's Buckinghamshire, looking for mischief. Yet little to date in Dahl's ( My Uncle Oswald ) fictional universe has been merely wistful or gentle, and these delicious tales, based loosely on Dahl's youthful exploits in the countryside, are in fact full of his characteristic literary capers; the works build, by book's end, a rustic community populated by con artists, poachers and thieves, where each man buffets his neighbor for supremacy and even the most stealthy among them strives to outdo adversaries with pranks. ``My dear friends, you've no idea the trouble these rascals will go to,'' declaims a bogus clergyman in ``Parson's Pleasure,'' where scams give life its meaning. This man of the cloth is actually an antiques dealer who uses his costume to persuade suspicious countrymen to accept small sums for their inherited valuables, which bring him large profits. Here and elsewhere, Dahl shrewdly uses ostensibly simple fables as vehicles for richly mordant examinations of human foibles. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.)