Roald Dahl was the most amazing storyteller. He had a knack for always using just the right word or turn of phrase to enthrall, amuse, or disgust his reader. Boy is the story of his early life, from birth until leaving school to work for the Shell Oil Company as a salesman prior to World War II. Somehow he turns even a typical British childhood into something truly special.
Dahl grew up in Wales but was educated in England, per his father’s wishes. The most memorable parts of Boy deal with the culture of British boarding schools, particularly the discipline. Reading about Dahl’s childhood, you can see the seeds that would become books like Matilda (the awful matrons and headmasters at his boarding schools), or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the Cadbury company would send chocolates to his boarding school, using the students as taste-testers). But what truly stands out is Dahl’s love of the grotesque. His books are not only fantastic and magical, they are also outrageous and at times even shocking in their brutality (think of poor Mike Teavee or the Twits). It’s clear that this fascination with the dark side of life began early in Dahl’s childhood. The story of him getting his tonsils and adenoids removed is one that has stuck with me ever since I first read this book as a kid. It’s disgusting. Then there’s the car accident where he almost loses a nose, the bit with the goat droppings (which actually made me feel kind of sick upon this reread), and of course the classic bit with the dead mouse in the candy store.
Dahl says in this book, “Truth is more important than modesty,” but I think he actually thought that a good story was more important than the truth. It’s hard to disagree with that when you’re reading one of his endlessly entertaining stories.