Roald Dahl was one of the first writers I was really into. As a pre-teen I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Danny The Champion of the World and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. This book, is a collection of anecdotes, Roald Dahl tells of his childhood. It is not he points out an autobiography. These are snippets of Roald Dahl’s childhood. The beastly time he had in public schools where the cane and fagging were commonplace, and a boy could be thrashed for a hundred and one piddling little misdemeanours.
This reads in the no nonsense style of Dahl’s novels, and we can see where some of the inspiration for his famous books like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” came from (at his school, boys were sent experimental chocolates by Cadbury’s to test out and review).
Many of the adults described are horrible like in his books. There is Mrs Pratchett who runs the local sweet shop, her hands “were black with dust and grime. They looked as though they had been putting lumps of coal on the fire all day long. And do not forget please that it was these hands and fingers that she plunged into the sweet jars…”
Dahl is very explicit about the cruel punishment of the cane and the sadism of the masters and boazers (prefects) exercising it. “Crack! It was like a rifle shot! With a very hard stroke of the cane on one’s buttocks, the time lag before you feel any pain is about four seconds. Thus, the experienced caner will always pause between strokes to allow the agony to reach its peak.”
His remembrances of childhood and school life are frank, vivid and frequently horrific. His account of the unexpected removal of his adenoids is particularly memorable:
“The tiny blade flashed in the bright light and quickly disappeared into my mouth. It went high up into the roof of my mouth, and the hand that held the blade gave four or five very quick twists and the next moment, out of my mouth into the basin came tumbling a whole mass of flesh and blood.”
In 1924 taking out a child’s adenoids or tonsils without anaesthetic was common place.
The book isn’t all horrific, there are great descriptions of family holidays in Norway and the logistical difficulties of taking a large family from Wales to Norway in the days before passenger flights.
This week, I have been feeling more self conscious than usual reading these two books on the metro, as (almost) no one else reads and one has a naked woman on the front and the other is a kiddie’s book.
My copy of the book also had some interesting facts about Roald Dahl in an appendix covering “Writing Tips”, “Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut” and “A Day in the Life of Roald Dahl” and it was illustrated wonderfully by Quentin Blake with some of Roald Dahl’s photographs.
My rating 4 out of 5