This is the second part of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, the first was “Boy” about his childhood. Now in “Going Solo” we find the young Roald Dahl , fresh out of school with the Second World War looming.
Generally, I only like autobiographies written by real authors, because they can write, they can tell a good tale and they are also selective in what they tell, knowing what to leave out is almost as important as knowing what to put in. They also write it themselves and don’t rely on ghost writers. I once bizarrely read Victoria Beckham’s autobiography “Learning to Fly” (which wasn’t about aerial acrobatics with a Tiger Moth), it was so badly written I thought she’d penned it herself but no, it turned out to have been ghostwritten. Alan Sillitoe’s autobiography “Raw Material“, however, was a rivetting read.
Roald Dahl begins with a trip to Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where aged 22, he has a job with the Shell Petrol Company. In the thirties, flying wasn’t really an option so he goes by boat . The other passengers are “a peculiar Empire-breed of Englishman” and quite dotty, his cabin mate was a certain U.N.Savory (you couldn’t make it up!) who put Epsom salts on his black wig pretending to have dandruff so people will think his hair is real.
In Africa he marvels at the rich diversity of animals but hates the snakes. Then war breaks out and he enlists in the RAF. He crashes in the desert before seeing any combat and spends six months recovering in an Alexandria hospital before seeing some real aerial combat in Greece, where the British squadron of fifteen Hurricanes is grossly outnumbered by around a thousand German planes, in the Battle of Athens five Hurricanes were shot down along with twenty-two Messerschmitts, Roald Dahl somehow manages to survive and moves on to Syria and Iraq to fight the “disgusting pro-Nazi Frenchmen” of the Vichy French Army. Dahl at 6 feet 6 inches isn’t the ideal build for a fighter pilot, having to squeeze himself into the cockpit, eventually it takes a toll on his health and he gets intolerable headaches.
The book is very entertaining like all of Dahl’s books, he is a great storyteller and much loved by generations of children familiar with works like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.
My rating : 5 out of 5