Comprehensive, authoritative biography of Roald Dahl (1916–1990).
Sturrock, a filmmaker who worked with his subject on two documentaries in the 1980s and is now artistic director of the Roald Dahl Foundation, crafts an orderly narrative. He first examines incidents and figures in Dahl’s ancestry that he judges significant, then retraces his subject’s schooling, exploits as an RAF pilot, suave diplomatic attaché and (as a friend puts it) “one of the biggest cocksmen in Washington,” and finally follows his progress from moderately successful writer of comically macabre short stories for adults to renowned creator of outrageously edgy fantasies for younger readers. Dahl’s outsized personality fills these pages as it evidently filled any room he occupied. The author was opinionated, fond of arguments and celebrity friendships or affairs, prone to ferocious attacks on any publisher or editor deemed insufficiently respectful of his work and strongly dedicated to his family—a quality seen most notably in his orchestration of a relentless (successful) rehabilitation program for his wife-at-the-time Patricia Neal after her stroke. Sturrock’s comments on his subject’s literary works are more descriptive than analytical, but he defends Dahl against charges of racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and anti-Semitism elsewhere, and also catalogs most of the many errors and outright fabrications in Dahl’s two volumes of memoirs.
Bearing lightly its torrents of references, this examination of the character and career of the iconoclastic writer is as perceptive as it is dishy and exciting.