Synopsis from Goodreads.
“‘I am only eight years old,’ I told myself. ‘No little boy of eight has ever murdered anyone. It’s not possible.’”
So thought Roald Dahl in 1924 when his plan to get revenge on the mean and disgusting candy-store owner Mrs. Pratchett seemed to have worked all too well. Writing about this and other boyhood adventures, the author has recalled only those that stand out as spectacular. “Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly. All are true.”
We are told of his first automobile ride, in which he nearly lost his nose; of the canings by Headmasters and older schoolboys; and of the grisly methods of Matrons, those guardians against misbehavior who supervised the dormitories. There were glorious times, too, with his big family at home in Wales; on holiday each summer on a remote island in Norway; and in the class of an endearing math teacher who thought numbers the dreariest things in the world.
Roald Dahl’s adventures and misadventures during his school years are crowded with people as strange and wonderful as any character he has created and are as exciting and full of the unexpected as his celebrated fiction.
(Deciding to re-read this book was inspired by the wonderful ladies at Gathering Books and their fantastic bimonthly meme‘Everything Dahl and Magical’. Which I absolutely adore. )
I first read this glorious memoir aged twelve when I had to do a project in history on a historical person of my choice.
I went to Staples, giddy as a kipper, and bought about five piles of coloured sugar paper and two packets of gel pens (the smelly glitter ones, of course) and set about completing possibly my favourite piece of homework.
I was minding my own business in the classroom, armed with a Pritt Stick and a copy of every one of his book, when this absolute… so and so… in my class said ‘Roald Dahl? Historical? I don’t think so. You should have chosen a monarch or something. You’re going to get a rubbish mark.”
Because I was a shy and retiring wallflower back then, I muttered something under my breath and glared at her from underneath my unfortunate fringe.
BUT, if she had said that to me today I would have found a desk, stood on it and, with my chest puffed out, I would have declared: “Roald Dahl is a historical figure because if Roald Dahl hadn’t written his books then British children’s fiction… nay, British fiction would have been far too bleak to tolerate. He captured the imagination of so many children and wrote timeless stories that encouraged, and continue to encourage, children who would never normally pick up a book to do just that. And if making generation after generation fall in love with his writing doesn’t qualify him as a historical person then I don’t know what does.”
But… like I said.
Mumble. Glare. Unfortunate fringe.
Anyway, I got my project back (and I still have it!) and my wonderful history teacher wrote: “Fantastic and original work here. You really did justice to a wonderful figure in British culture. 10 credits”
10 credits? Fantastic and original. YEAH.
Anyway… back to the book.
I loved how Dahl only briefly mentions the stories that he is known for once. It is only right near the end where he is describing how Cadbury’s World (Which is just like Charlie’s Chocolate Factory by the way!) used to send the boys of his boarding school sample chocolate to taste and how this lead to him writing Charlie and his adventures.
So whenever it was mentioned that his grandfather was nearly seven foot tall or how the young boy used to wonder how gobstoppers worked, you can’t help but feel that Dahl is giving you a knowing wink or whispering a secret that only the two of you are privy to.
Witnessing these glimmers of inspiration that lead him to write his beloved stories, all those years later, was definitely my favourite thing about this book.
Mrs Pratchett with her blouse covered in “toast-crumbs and tea stains and splotches of dried egg-yolk” and hands that “looked as though they have been putting lumps of coal on the fire all day long.”
Remind you of any one?
Or the Matron, that “large fair-haired woman with a bosom” who “ruled with a rod of steel.”
And Dahl’s Bestemama with her perpetual chair rocking or Bestepapa, who sits “saying very little and totally overwhelmed.”
Paired with photographs, hand-written letters home and, of course, Quentin Blake’s glorious illustrations (My favourite one being the bug-eyed, twitching Captain Hardcastle), Boy is still one of my all-time favourites.
I could quite happily fill this review with quotes…. but I’ll just leave you with this one…
“Anaesthetics and pain-killing injections were not much used in those days. Dentists, in particular, never bothered with them. But I doubt very much if you would be entirely happy today if a doctor threw a towel in your face and jumped on you with a knife.”