Sunday, August 27, 2006

Boy: Tales of Childhood

I was taken aback by Roald Dahl’s memoir Boy: Tales of Childhood, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been; this is the author of Switch Bitch, after all. With rare exceptions, all Dahl’s childhood memories are awful: surgeries without anesthetic, a car accident that cut off his nose, and above all, vicious beatings by sadistic schoolmasters, one of whom went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Dahl writes:
By now I am sure you will be wondering why I lay so much emphasis upon school beatings in these pages. The answer is that I cannot help it. 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. It would, of course, be unfair to suggest that all masters were constantly beating the daylights out of all the boys in those days. They weren't. Only a few did so, but that was quite enough to leave a lasting impression of horror upon me. It left another more physical impression upon me as well. Even today, whenever I have to sit for any length of time on a hard bench or chair, I begin to feel my heart beating along the old lines that the cane made on my bottom some fifty-five years ago.
On a cheerier note, I was pleased to learn in Boy that young Dahl and all his classmates at Repton were tasters for the new confections being developed by the Cadbury chocolate company:
Cadbury's were using some of the greatest chocolate-bar experts in the world to test out their new inventions. We were of a sensible age, between thirteen and eighteen, and we knew intimately every chocolate bar in existence, from the Milk Flake to the Lemon Marshmallow. Quite obviously our opinions on anything new would be valuable. All of us entered into this game with great gusto, sitting in our studies and nibbling each bar with the air of connoisseurs, giving our marks and making our comments. "Too subtle for the common palate," was one note that I remember writing down.
Young Dahl's daydreams about how wonderful it would be to work in the inventing-room at Cadbury's resulted, of course, in his second children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 35 years later.


Tracy S. Miller said...

I really enjoyed Roald Dahl as a kid.
I haven't read any of his stuff aimed at adults.

This one in particular sounds kinda bleak. Very Oliver Twist-ish.

Got any lighter recommendations?


rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.