Saturday, September 03, 2016

Boy by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was once a child, like all of us. And, since he later found great fame in writing stories for children, his readers naturally wondered what he was like when he was like them. (Assuming anyone is anything like anyone else, which on some days I find extremely dubious.)

Boy was Dahl's answer to those questions, written fifty to sixty years after his childhood in the Twenties. (He was born in 1916, and wrote this book in 1984.) It covers his first twenty years in a succession of quick memories and anecdotes, without a whole lot of linking material other than the mature, assured Dahl voice. (There was a second book of memoirs, also ostensibly for young readers, under the title Going Solo, which I read last fall -- I do seem to do things backward whenever I have the opportunity.)

Dahl went to the old-fashioned sort of British school for boys, which means much of this slim, zippy book is about uniforms and Latin and so forth -- and, more than anything else, about the physical and mental abuse of the teachers, which clearly still made Dahl angry even several decades later. He had a happy life in a large, loving, interesting family -- but the focus here is on the young Dahl moving out from that safe family into the larger world, and his first experience of the larger world was in those horrible schools with their nasty masters.

Boy is very short and is over almost before it begins. Recently, it's been published in one volume with Going Solo, which is also anecdotal but has some more heft to it, since it's about Dahl's days during WWII. I'd recommend interested readers find the omnibus and read it straight through; even a slow reader should be able to do that on a medium-length domestic plane flight.

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