Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl Paperback – Sep 13 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
Sturrock walks alongside Dahl and shares the stories of this beloved author, deftly drawing readers into Dahl's life. One aspect of the biography that will capture attention and surprise some readers is how tragic some portions of Dahl's life were.
For example, he was only three years old when his seven-year-old sister, Astri, died; as she was their father's favorite, Dahl's father was devastated by her death and gave up on life. Ironically, Dahl's losses continued into his adulthood, culminating in his own seven-year-old daughter's death.
Other readers will eagerly read about Dahl's romances with famous women like Elizabeth Arden, the Marchioness of Huntley, and actress Patricia Neal, whom he married.
As authorized biographer, Sturrock is able to tell the tale of Dahl's life as well as share his own experiences with the author without becoming overly sentimental or judgmental about this dominant personality. The book will hold the attention of readers as it provides the fascinating, heartbreaking, and just plain interesting details of Dahl's life. This biography is an important addition to any library.
Reviewed by: Theresa L. Stowell
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Donald Sturrock had interviewed Dahl for a BBC film, been to his home and was given access to Dahl's papers after his death and interviews with his children and friends. His writing captures your interest, incorporating Dahl's past with his books and stories, so that even if you have not read them, they draw you into his world. There are many helpful footnotes, including those that explain Anglicism's such as conkers.
Dahl's cynicism, "life isn't beautiful...it's full of foul things and horrid people" is incorporated along with his extreme generosity, his love of his family and his failings from his birth to his death.
There was so much more to Dahl's life than what is generally known; but even that would make him worthy of note. He brought to life WWII's gremlins, `James and the Giant Peach', `Charley and the Chocolate Factory`, married Patricia Neal and guided her recovery after her stroke, was instrumental in developing a drainage tech valve to help save his son's life, which also helped thousands of other patients, he was a screenwriter for `You Only Live Twice' and also `Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. Sturrock is successful in bringing out all of this and more; both the personal and professional aspects of Dahl's fascinating existence.
This biography is an excellent example of researching into someone's life and explaining it with appeal for the reader, whether they are acquainted with Dahl or not. Probably the highest praise I can give, is that it makes a reader want to pick up everything Dahl ever wrote to continue the story.
This tome is a detailed look into the life of a man whose books still enthrall and delight generations of children, even with the creation of the magnificent Harry Potter. Sturrock's writing is remarkably balanced and he doesn't shy away from showing the darker side of Roald Dahl, which, at times, is hard to swallow. I had no idea of the life that Dahl led before he became a children's author. All that I know (pieced together from Boy and Going Solo) is that he was a fighter pilot during WWII and was stationed for some time in Africa. What I did not know is that he was assigned to Washington DC after he was injured during the war. I did not know that the concept of the Gremlins could be applied to him. I did not know that he had been married to Patricia Neal or that he had been friends with FDR or that he had briedly been Hemmingway's assistant to that he had known Ian Fleming. I could on (honestly- there's more) and it's astonishing how little I really knew about the man I have idolised. In spite of the fact that Roald Dahl comes across as a hard and difficult man, there are moments in Sturrock's writing when you truly feel the heart of who he was. His love affair with his 2nd wife Liccy is very touching and the influence that he had on the hearts and minds of his young fans is a beautiful thing.
My one complaint is that in spite of the endless details about his life in Washington and all the people that he knew, in contrast there was very little about his time as the world's most famous children's author. I think the book would have been improved, particularly to those of us who lived and breathed his words as children, if there had been more focus on those times, instead of so much given to his earlier life. Not that those things were not important, because they were. It just felt that the end of the book was rather rushed and not so much time given over to his days as the reigning king of children's literature.
Finishing the book was a bittersweet experience for me, because I came away feeling that if I had known the man, I probably would not have liked him very much, but I continue to be grateful every day for the literature he has given the world.
The book, in covering Dahl from his roots in England and Norway to his death in 1990, is excellent. Author, Donald Sturrock, assembled a lot of known and new material and put it together in a highly readable fashion. That these 500+ pages hold your attention, and mostly keep you page turning, is a real credit to this first time biographer.
Dahl, whose father died when he was 3, was sent to Repton School at the age of 14. It's described as the proverbial nightmare British boarding school, where hazing from peers equals the sadism of the teachers and administrators. This school completed Dahl's formal education, and probably his emotional development as well.
World War II arrived for Britain while Dahl was working in Africa. He joined the RAF which was formative in that he received pilots training, was in aerial combat and had a debilitating accident. This led to a desk job in the British Embassy in Washington DC. As a war hero with a successful free lanced story, he was catapulted into the highest ranks of politics and entertainment. Not yet 30 years old and he is dining with FDR, playing tennis with the vice-president, boxing with Hemingway and dating Clair Boothe Luce. We don't know how he achieved such extraordinary access, but we do know that he was, like Ian Flemming, a spy. It helped that he was handsome and had affairs with rich and beautiful women; He filed reports on some. From the Washington days he made a good and lifelong friend, Charles Marsh.
Sturrock takes the reader through all of this, his two marriages, family life and tragedies and his frustrations as a writer before his children's books. Both Dahl's loving/generous side and his prickly/dogmatic sides are presented. His two marriages cannot be more different; his first seems almost accidental and might have ended in divorce sooner were the couple not bound by tragedy. His attitude towards Pat's role as a wife, and his treatment of her in general, is appalling. He is not often kind to agents and editors and is capable of casting off the most helpful ones abruptly. He is happy in his second marriage and by this time he is also successful in his career. He has lifelong health problems and his last days, as was a lot of his life (6 spinal operations to name just one health problem), are painful.
If you read this book, you will either love him or hate him, or both; you will not be indifferent. You will, though, come away with total respect for this author who has digested a lifetime of work and life and made it accessible.
Another reviewer asks, "Was it worthwhile to have Dahl knocked off his pedestal? Yes." I agree wholeheartedly. Meeting -- and truly coming to know -- someone as an adult that one previously knew only as a child is certainly always eye-opening pedestal-removing, and that is certainly the case with Dahl, whose general nastiness seeps through throughout this book. But it's not only nastiness that comes out; the man really seemed to possess character attributes on the extremes of many spectrums.
The bottom line is that it was fascinating to learn about how complex Dahl was, and I come away with a deeper respect, admiration for, and interest in his work. Sturrock did a wonderful job with this book, and I highly endorse it.
If it's hard to imagine a children's writer greater than Roald Dahl, it's harder to imagine a better biography than this. Not the first; just the best. While taking his cue from the subject and his disregard for the 'dull world of fact', Sturrock gets the balance just about right about a man who was private and gregarious, buttoned-up and expressive, a rationalist with a mystic streak who would rather be wrong and bold than right and timid.
Half the fun, of course, is seeing how many of your guesses were right. (Boy and Going Solo were fictions, Willy Wonka a truer self-portrait, the origins of the obsession about chocolate). There are just as many surprises, often accompanied by a small fact put in just the right place.
The greatest guess Sturrock confirms is a simple one: Dahl wrote so well about childhood because he never quite left his own behind. Although his Christianity was never more than tenuous, he retained its sense of the sacredness of childhood. By and large he wrote off adults and all their concerns - economics, insurance, industry - with an imperious ease. Sometimes this seems monstrous; other times creasingly funny. Once, he left his sleeping wife a note saying, 'If you want a f***, wake me up'. His wife left one for him the following day, replying 'If you want a f***, go f*** yourself.'
Sturrock makes no attempt to tidy Dahl up, and to his credit. You see a complete person emerge through his pages, and you can't say better than that. Not to be missed.