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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

"Boy", by Roald Dahl

“Boy” is Roald Dahl’s autobiography (although he denies it!), covering his life up until he left school.  In the book, he describes some of the bizarre, frightening, exciting and funny adventures that he, his family and friends had as he was growing up in England, Wales and Norway.  In the foreword, he writes:

“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 write 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. … All I had to do was skim them off 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 remembered them so vividly.  All are true.”

“Boy” is a gripping read, which conjures up a range of emotions: I felt sad and empathised with Roald Dahl when he described how he had to leave his family to go to boarding-school (he found it especially hard to leave his mother behind as he loved her so much); I laughed when he described how he and the younger members of his family played a nasty trick on his half-sister’s fiancé, which involved a smoking-pipe and goat’s droppings; I felt scared when he described how he nearly lost his nose in a car accident, and also when his Headteacher got angry after he and his friends almost killed a sweet-shop owner by putting a mouse in a sweet jar, giving her the fright of her life!  The story about the sweet-shop owner was my favourite part of the book because it was amusing and scary at the same time.

Roald Dahl, ie “Boy”, is my favourite character.  As he wrote the book in the first person, I felt as though he was talking directly to me and, therefore, I got to know him very well.  At times, I found myself believing I was actually a part of his thrilling life, getting immersed in his incredible adventures.  Roald Dahl is a colourful character who, through his writing, emphasises how everyone’s life is unique; all will have elements of happiness, sadness, funny times and scary moments but all will be totally different.

The following extracts give a flavour of his eventful life:

Roald Dahl’s parents were Norwegian and he and his family used to spend every summer in Norway, a country that he clearly loved:

“The summer holidays!  Those magic words!  The mere mention of them used to send shivers of joy rippling over my skin.  All my summer holidays, from when I was four years old to when I was seventeen (1920 to 1932), were totally idyllic.  This, I am certain, was because we always went to the same idyllic place and that place was Norway.”

At the age of nine, he was sent away to boarding-school; saying goodbye to his family, especially his mother, was very painful, and he had terrible homesickness.  I empathised with him when I read how he felt:

“… and I was left standing there beside my brand new trunk and my brand new tuck-box.  I began to cry.”

“Homesickness is a bit like seasickness.  You don’t know how awful it is till you get it, and when you do, it hits you right in the top of the stomach and you want to die.”

At boarding-school, he had to endure cruel punishments, like beatings and canings; he could never come to terms with the brutality he witnessed and experienced:

“I was frightened of that cane. … It was a weapon for wounding.  It lacerated the skin.  It caused severe black and scarlet bruising that took three weeks to disappear, and all the time during those three weeks, you could feel your heart beating along the wounds.”

“All through my school life I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely.  I couldn’t get over it.  I never have got over it.”

He loved to play practical jokes on people; one story I particularly like involves his half-sister’s fiancé (“the manly lover”):

“Very gently I poured these shredded droppings into the bowl of the pipe, packing them down with my thumb just as the manly lover always did it.  When that was done, I placed a thin layer of real tobacco over the top.  The entire family was watching me as I did this.  Nobody said a word, but I could sense a glow of approval all round.  I replaced the pipe on the rock, and all of us sat back to await the return of the victim.”

Roald Dahl’s ability to combine grotesque and comic images is illustrated in the chapter entitled, “A drive in the motor-car”:

“My nose had been cut almost clean off my face as I went through the rear windscreen and now it was hanging on only by a single small thread of skin.  My mother … clapped the dangling nose back into place fast and held it there.”

I would definitely recommend this book to both boys and girls aged 10-14+.  Having read several other books by Roald Dahl, I can see that many of the characters are based on people he writes about in “Boy”, eg Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda”, and the grandmother in “The Witches”; this makes the book even more fascinating.

I really enjoyed reading “Boy” and I hope you do too!  I give it a ***** rating.

If you want to find out more about Roald Dahl, visit this website:

1 comment:

  1. I really like your blog and there is lots of information about the books. Also, I like your book choices :)