An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details.
This is not an autobiography. I would never writer a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten.
None of these things is important, but each of them made such a tremendous impression on me that I have never been able to get them out of my mind. Each of them, even after a lapse of fifty and sometimes sixty years, has remained seared on my memory.
I didn’t have to search for any of them. All I had to do was skim them of the top of my consciousness and write them down.
Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly. All are true.
Boy is the story of Roald Dahl’s informative years growing up – it’s a great journey into his life as a child and seeing what school and growing up was like way-back-when. The story is told with typically fabulous writing from the master himself, there are laughs, funny characters (that are real people) and many fabulous adventures. Some of my picks for chapters are the mouse plan, having his adenoids removed and also seeing where his idea was sparked for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A great read for middle graders and adults if you wanted to know a bit more about Roald Dahl.
Boy by Roald Dahl sticks in my memory as a child for two reasons. The first of these was as a young boy I was made to have my tonsils and adenoids removed at the same time – I dont know whether I was suffering from Munchausen by proxy but to me my adenoids and my tonsils never gave me any problems, I didn’t even know they where there…but my parents did, so they were coming out.
One sunny day I was admitted to hospital and put on a ward with other children all awaiting what seemed to be the same fate. I was taken down anaesthetised and then when I awoke everything was removed – they whipped out my tonsils and adenoids all in one go. The thing I remember most was for breakfast they insisted on us having either Cornflakes or dried toast – and I must say it’s the last thing you ever want to eat when you have open wounds in your throat. But doctors know best so I was forced to eat them. After having my minor operation my sister had the book Boy and I read it, I had nothing better to do, and as I read the book I was shocked to read that Roald Dahl had his adenoids out, without any anaesthetic – the descriptions he gave made my knees week and my stomach lurch – and has endeared Roald Dahl to me ever since.
The second reason it sticks in my mind as a fabulous book is his chapter on the sweet shop, run by a grubby and detestable woman, who on re-reading I am sure that Mrs. Twit may be based a little on her appearance. This chapter reads brilliantly and Dahl brings you right into the time, his friendship group and the daring and great Mouse Plot; the plot of getting their own back on the woman who’s so horrid she’s a mix between Miss. Trunchbull and Mrs. Twit – just imagine that for a moment! Horrific! Well Dahl as a young boy decides that they will put a dead mouse in her jar of gobstoppers and get their own back on that nasty woman – her reaching in to grab a sweet and then coming out with a dead mouse would be hilarious. Unfortunately she didn’t think so, and neither did the schools Head Master and in the end Dahl and his posse got a good old thwack at school with the cane, with the sweet shop owner watching on and relishing the murderous scene before her, cackling and cajoling like a crazed witch.
Boy is written in Dahl’s fabulously engaging voice, although it’s very different from his children’s fiction, it’s quite clear to see that he wrote it with children in mind, it flows beautifully and his depictions are bold and colourful, he doesn’t alienate the younger reader – which could quite possibly happen with an autobiography, instead he grabs them by the hand and leads them through his informative years and the many crazy plans he hatched.
‘When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful. Truth is more important than modesty. I must tell you, therefore, that it was I and I alone who had the idea for the great and daring Mouse Plot.’
It is a very informative book that I hope young children read, it covers the cane being used at schools, life in boarding schools, how people used to travel around the world, there are moments too when you can see characters and situations he talks about and make connections with some of the children’s books he has written – for example when he was at boarding school, Cadbury (the chocolate company) used to send a box of chocolates to the boys staying there and they would have to rate the bars in order of their preference, Dahl talks about that when he came to write Charlie and The Chocolate Factory this memory helped fuel his creativity.
Dahl rounds up with his departure from school, his first job, his travels to distant lands and the outbreak of WW2 – he touches briefly on his life as a writer over his life as a business man…thank goodness he chose the writer and not the businessman – but the rest of his remarkable story continues in ‘Going Solo’.
‘The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock.’
A brilliant read and highly recommended for young minds and old minds, if you want to know more about the master of Children’s fiction – look no further and don’t delay, you wont be disappointed!
Boy was published by Puffin Books and you can get a copy here.
Sitting in a hut at the bottom of his garden, surrounded by odd bits and pieces such as a suitcase (used as a footrest), his own hipbone (which he’d had replaced) and a heavy ball of metal foil (made from years’ worth of chocolate wrappers), Roald Dahl wrote some of the world’s best-loved stories including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, The Witches, The BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, James and the Giant Peach and lots more.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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