This week I read the double whammy of “Boy” and “Going Solo”, in one volume. I read this countless times when I was younger, so it was very familiar.
Boy tells Dahl’s story from birth to the end of school, when he was 18 and went to work for the Shell Oil company. Going Solo continues directly on from Boy, when Dahl ships off to Africa to work for Shell, all he way through until the end of WWII.
Roald Dahl writes brilliantly. I’ve read a large number of his books, for children and adults, and his writing is compelling whatever he’s talking about. His stories always have a touch of magic in them, from Matilda to his adult short stories. In his autobiographies he applies the same approach – his anecdotes, especially his schooldays ones, tell tales of dead mice and grim headmasters – characters you can recognise from his fiction.
The best books are ones that can take you anywhere. In both of the books, his easy and descriptive prose transports you to wherever he is – swimming in the fjords of Norway, getting caned at school or flying fighter planes in WWII – the reader is right with him, all the way through.
Reading it again, probably more than ten years later, there are things I noticed for the first time. One is the lack of love interests, throughout both books. The next is the difference in writing between Boy and Going Solo – -the first is definitely written for a younger audience, while the second, which tells of snakes and lions and crashing in the desert, is aimed at an older audience. Both are accessible and friendly enough to not alienate either demographic.
If you like Roald Dahl and you haven’t read these, I recommend them. I have a copy which has them both in if you’d like a borrow…
Next week I shall be reading “Shopgirl” by Steve Martin.