When I was a kid I loved reading, I would read all the time. I loved the places and times that they could transport me, an escape from the real world I found myself in. I loved escaping to Faraway Trees, meeting magical insects that lived in a peach, and being scared by saying cheese.
Though I would read anything, by anyone, there was one author that could always be relied upon to bring a smile on my face and really make the real world disappear. Roald Dahl. With his eccentric characters and exquisite turn of phrase Roald Dahl has become a firm favourite with children and their parents for decades.
Since his first book was published in 1943 Mr Dahl has made young children gasp with terror, cheer for their favourite characters and most of all giggle uproariously from the rather gruesome jokes and made up words.
Which brings me to the book I decided to review, Matilda. I first read this when I was nine years old, I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t have much of a home life, either. Matilda, with it’s themes of bullying and loneliness spoke to me immediately. First published in 1988, the year of my birth and only two years before the death of Dahl Matilda has become a much beloved character, with a well loved film released in 1966.
This year is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, and with all the events celebrating this milestone I thought I would revisit an old favourite for the first time in nearly twenty years.
Right from the first sentence it was immediately like a big warm hug welcoming me back to a story and characters that I love so much.
I really think of this book having two halves, the first half revolves around Matilda and her parents. Matilda’s parents are really vile, her father is a dodgy used car salesman and her mother seems to do nothing but play bingo and think she’s pretty. They both seem to hate their own daughter and resent her. The thing is, Matilda has an extraordinary talent, she is incredibly smart. By the age of three she is able to read everything in the house and even takes herself to the library to read as many books as she possibly can.
Matilda uses her smarts to get back at her parents when they are unduly mean to her, she makes her parents and brother think the house is haunted by stuffing a talking bird up the chimney (in its cage, and it was returned to it’s owner, don’t worry no birds were harmed in the writing of this book), she bleaches her dad’s hair and she glues her dad’s hat to his head. This part of the book is a great source of some of that trademark Roald Dahl scrunginess, it’s all about the the kid getting one over on the adults. As kids we all feel that life could be unfair and we all wanted to get our own back on our parents, and Matilda actually does it, and she does it well. And with the reactions of her truly horrible father it provides some great belly laughs.
Like other children, however, when she turns five she must attend school. This is where the second half kicks in, Matilda Vs The Trunchbull. On her first day at school Matilda make friends for the first time in her life, and she meets Miss Honey, only the second adult in her life to treat her with respect and to recognise her amazing gift. Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of the school, is just as bad as her parents and tries her best to bring Matilda down and disbelieve her intelligence. The Trunchbull is nothing short of a bully, she holds boys up by their ears, and throws girls by their pigtails as though the she were competing in the hammer throw at the Olympics.
It’s during one of the Trunchbull’s lessons that Matilda learns she has an even more amazing talent than her smarts, she can move things with nothing but her eyes and the power of her mind. She is, essentially, magic. Matilda then devises a plan to bring down the Trunchbull and restore order at the school.
Matilda is a beautiful story, and brought back many happy memories of reading it the first time round, Dahl has such a great imagination or small acts of striking out on your own. A common theme with Dahl is kids sticking it to those adults who seems to hate kids. This questioning of authority, that helped to inspire me to think for myself and realise that not all adults are right and should be respected. Even as an adult this rejection of authority really strikes a chord.
The illustrations from Quentin Blake are as always a welcome addition and helps to add to the story and fires the imagination.
The structure, I felt was a little episodic, and sometimes it felt like a collection of connected short stories, and I felt that the ending was a little rushed, but honestly, I didn’t really care, the characters and the story and the writing all made up for this in spades. I encourage you to also celebrate the centenary (or, just, you know for fun) to pick up Matilda, or any Roald Dahl book and give it another go, I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed like that time you decided to re-watch The Super Mario Brother Super Show.