There aren’t many of us who haven’t heard the name Roald Dahl. I don’t believe many, if any of us, can remember the first time we even heard the name. It’s almost like we are born with it already embedded in our minds, as if evolution recognises the benefit of us being aware of his existence, of his imagination and his stories. One of my fellow booksellers refers to Dahl as the “master”, but how else can we refer to someone whose impact on storytelling has been so significant? His influence is unparalleled. Dahl’s contribution to the world of literature has been recgonised over the years with great critical acclaim. In 1983 he was awarded a World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and in 2008 The Times included Dahl in their list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945’ respectively at number 16. However, Dahl isn’t remembered today as one of the greatest, or as the “master” for his awards. We remember Dahl because when we hear his name we’re able to travel through memory and imagination, to a time of wonder and fascination when we experienced his stories. Boy, published 1984, is Dahl’s own journey through his memory and imagination, it’s his story, the story of Roald Dahl.
‘We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.’
Boy was published towards the end of Dahl’s life and was his first autobiographical work. Throughout the book we are taken through a series of events that occurred in Dahl’s childhood, from when he was born until he left school. I love this book! Not only is it written with the warmest sincerity, but it possesses a kind of magic. I fly from chapter to chapter and as I do this I’m completely transported to be right there beside Dahl. In one moment I find myself in Norway in a state of complete bliss, sunbathing on stony beaches and eating thick chunks of white fish. The next thing I know I’m shivering as my backside freezes on an outside toilet seat in the middle of the English winter, reading a slightly beat-up copy of David Copperfield. This might sound a little bizarre, but I promise it’s a reading experience not to be missed. Boy is full of hilarious and brilliant tales of childhood misadventures, but that’s not what makes it great, what makes it great is something all together very different. There is a tragedy that seems to hum behind the sound of the laughter. The book is more than just Dahl’s story, this is the story of the life of all boys who went to school in England in the 1920s and 30s. Undeniably there’s a sense of friendship and camaraderie throughout these tales, but there’s always something nasty and immoral that shadows the children. This shadow, to put it simply, is adulthood. By this I mean the actual presence of adults throughout Dahl’s life who worked in the public school system. Boy for me is as heartbreaking as it is life-affirming and it is evident how Dahl’s childhood resulted in his works of fiction often being just as dark as they are comic.
If you haven’t read this book then please as soon as you can get to your local library or bookshop and find yourself a copy. If you’re familiar with Dahl’s work you will come away from reading the book with a whole new understanding of this incredible writer. If you’ve never had the chance to read Dahl before then that doesn’t matter, Boy will fuel your need to delve deeper into the mind of undoubtedly one of the most important storytellers to have ever lived.
BB Rating 4.3/5
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