Happy Roald Dahl Day everybody! Today is not only Dahl’s birthday but it also marks 100 years since he was born, a very special Dahl Day indeed!
I have absolutely loved reliving the magical worlds he created in his books, rereading 16 of his books over the last 12 days (reviews can be found in the index). I really hope you’ve enjoyed your daily dose of Dahl over the last fortnight too!
There is no denying Dahl’s status in the canon of children’s literature for he is a naturally funny and instinctively clever storyteller. He invented some of the most loved characters in the whole of fiction and entertains children and adults alike across every generation. More importantly, he is my hero.
Today I turn to his ‘autobiographies’ Boy and Going Solo. I use quotation marks because Dahl very strictly lays down in his prelude to Boy that he doesn’t agree with autobiographies – they are too selective. Instead, both of these books contain the highlights from Dahl’s childhood and early adult years, memories he wanted to share with his fans. In both of these books you can see inspirations, events and people that perhaps became more than memory…
An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details.
A charming and nostalgic collection of short stories from Dahl’s childhood, Boy is where it all started! Written in a style not dissimilar to his fictional works, Boy is an insight to Dahl’s family, holidays to Norway, going to boarding school and growing up. The chapters are episodic, all containing humorous anecdotes of the events that shaped the life of this great man.
I get the impression from Boy that Dahl wanted to give his readers just enough to satisfy but not enough to expose him fully. The stories are quite narrow, frank and fast-paced and with no wide emotive angle on any of them. They are adventures that were no doubt elaborated upon in some cases for entertainment. In contrast, the actual snippets of letters to his mother from school are a really lovely addition, for the break up his narrative and return the school-day tales to something more tangible and real.
The ship that was carrying me away from England to Africa in the autumn of 1938 was called the SS Mantola.
A title with two meanings, Going Solo picks up where Boy left off to explore Dahl’s life after school – first working for oil company Shell in Africa and then signing up to become a fighter pilot in the RAF during WWII.
Given the subject matter, there is less whimsy Going Solo but you’ll be happy to know it’s not all seriousness. Dahl clearly loved adventure and his enthusiasm for life in Africa leaps off the page – particularly when describing African wildlife and the wonderful ridiculousness of British Empire society.
As in Boy, the narrative has a matter-of-factness, which serves to distance the reader from some of the more horrific events of war, inevitable deaths of colleagues and his horrific injury. I really enjoyed this style as it placed Going Solo firmly in the autobiographical camp, giving the reverence and respect this particular part of his life deserves.