Roald Dahl wrote some of my favorite childhood books. I’ll never forget James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, or any of the other amazing books that he wrote for children, and I fully intend to share them with my own children someday. But a couple of the ones I found most interesting were the memoirs he wrote about himself, Boy and Going Solo. I was naturally very eager to learn more about his life, and Sturrock’s biography was a brilliant choice for doing exactly that.
Charting Roald’s life, from his immediate ancestry to his death, Sturrock does an amazing job communicating what sort of man Dahl was. He doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult aspects of his life, or the way that he manipulated his own past when it suited him – mainly, it becomes clear that Dahl was a storyteller in all respects, and if he thought he could make his life more interesting by telling tales about it, he was happy to do so. While I wasn’t thrilled to discover that both Boy and Going Solo had a large degree of fictionalization, I was still eager to discover the actual, documented truth, and indeed there is a considerable amount of that here thanks to archives, research, and interviews consulted and conducted by Sturrock. Sturrock had also met Dahl before his passing, and so shares personal knowledge of him with us.
There is so much here that I’d never really guessed at it; I knew he’d written darker stories for adults, but I had never really known about his many love affairs, the true misery of his childhood, the losses he suffered in his own life both as a child and an adult, nor his crotchety and sometimes difficult personality. Sturrock liberally quotes from the author’s letters and documents, and I felt like I was genuinely getting to know him and connect him with the author I knew. His writing style is distinctive, and the picture Sturrock tells is cohesive. It’s in no way idealized; it makes him into a fully rounded person, which I think is the best possible result of a biography such as this one. Sturrock is equally praising of the author’s merits, especially his unflagging commitment to children’s literature and charitable work, as he is critical of other aspects of his life.
Naturally, I also found the circumstances around Dahl’s life to be fascinating. An attendee at a British boarding school, a pilot during World War II, and then an up-and-coming writer with a Hollywood star as his wife, Dahl lived through a considerable amount of exciting twentieth century history. I enjoyed Sturrock’s distillation of the facts and the way he built the background around Dahl’s life; it helped ground me and made the rest of the book wonderful reading.
A detailed and intensely appealing biography about one of the world’s best known children’s writers, Storyteller is worthy of a place in the library of any Roald Dahl fan.