Short Story Reads: The Visitor by Roald Dahl

How exciting would it be to receive an wooden crate from nowhere at your doorstep? 

What would it contain? Who is it from, you would wonder, your hands tingling to rip open its contents.  

The Visitor begins with the arrival of one such mysterious crate at the narrator’s doorstep. 

Much to his astonishment, the crate is filled with books from the long forgotten Oswald Hendryks Cornelius, aka Uncle Oswald. 

Thing is, nobody in the family had heard from Oswald in thirty years!

The books are all dairies, twenty-eight volumes, three hundred pages to each volume. 

Due to the largely scandalous contents, the narrator after consulting a lawyer choses this one particular account to be safe for publication among all volumes – The Visitor is the very last entry in the last volume.  

The incident is referred to as the Sinai Desert episode and is marked to have occurred in 1946 by Oswald.    

Our narrator gives us an entertaining, brisk description of the womanizing, adventurous, world traveler Oswald, before reproducing Oswald’s last diary entry word to word.

Desert, scorpions and temptation

The first time I commenced reading The Visitor a few years ago, just couldn’t put it down and was compelled to run through it in one breathless session. 

Uncle Oswald is not just any master seducer, but also a man with eccentricities and relentless daring.

When we first encounter him, Oswald escapes his mistress and takes the road to Jerusalem, ceasing enroute to search for scorpions in the Sinai Desert, one among his many passionate hobbies.   

It is when he stops to fill his tank that things start going a bit against his liking. 

The attendant tells him that the fan belt is broken and that Oswald has to spent the night in the desert, the new fan belt will only arrive the next day. That is when a Rolls-Royce arrives at the gasoline station…   

A classic short story event, among the most satisfying and enjoyable of Roald Dahl short stories for adults, The Visitor has the trademark macabre elements, but the unexpected open-ended turn of it is both chilling and delicious. 

In retrospect, the story could have been trimmed, causing the climax to have a more shocking impact, but nowhere does Dahl seem to stall. 

Oswald is probably the most enigmatic of Dahl’s short story characters, though the novel, My Uncle Oswald wasn’t up to my high expectations.  

The Visitor first featured in the Playboy Magazine Holiday Special issue 1965 before making its way to the Dahl short story anthology Switch Bitch.

The Best of Roald Dahl is a good Penguin paperback anthology to catch the story. Also, the Everyman hardbound edition, Collected Stories by Roald Dahl is a great compilation to own.  

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Leave a Comment