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Storyteller – Book Challenge 2K16

Molly Kane, Head of Teen Services and Emerging Technologies

cvr9781439189764_9781439189764_hrTitle & Author : Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Book Challenge Category: A book you previously abandoned

Description: “A single-minded adventurer and an eternal child who gave us the iconic Willy Wonka and Matilda Wormwood, Roald Dahl lived a life filled with incident, drama and adventure: from his harrowing experiences as an RAF fighter pilot and his work in British intelligence, to his many romances and turbulent marriage to the actress Patricia Neal, to the mental anguish caused by the death of his young daughter Olivia. In Storyteller, the first authorized biography of Dahl, Donald Sturrock—granted unprecedented access to the Dahl estate’s archives—draws on personal correspondence, journals and interviews with family members and famous friends to deliver a masterful, witty and incisive look at one of the greatest authors and eccentric characters of the modern age, whose work still delights millions around the world today.”

Review: The first autobiography I ever read was Dahl’s Boy.  I was an avid reader of fantasy and magical realism (although I wouldn’t have called it that as a third grader) and I think Boy captured my imagination because a surprising amount of details in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were actually true. (Not the Oompa Loompas, of course, but the descriptions of the chocolate bars were mostly based on chocolates he was given as a boy in candy focus groups!) I still reread Boy fairly frequently because it’s rare to find so many magical stories in any biography or autobiography. Because I loved Boy, I picked up Storyteller when I found it in a used bookstore a few years back. But while Boy is a scant 192 pages and ends with Dahl’s graduation from secondary school, Storyteller clocks in with 672 pages and covers his entire life. I made a valiant start, even reading the introduction, but soon abandoned it for shorter and less dense works. Luckily the 2016 Book Challenge was a good excuse to finally plow my way through!

And when I finished, I didn’t know what to think. I knew that Dahl had been a fairly thorny personality and I knew the tragic story of the death of his daughter, Olivia. I also knew that he had written a small collection of adult novels that are more..ahh…risque than the children’s novels he’s known for. What I didn’t know about was the car accident that left his infant son brain damaged or the stroke that left his wife mostly paralyzed while pregnant with their fifth child. Or that he had a long-term mistress. Or that he wrote the screenplay to the James Bond Movie You Only Live Twice. Or that he held some prejudiced views that, while not uncommon for the time period, don’t paint him in the kindest light.  Bottom line? People, even beloved children’s authors, are layered and complex creatures. Dahl lived a fascinating life, but a part of me wishes I’d skipped over Storyteller and just kept rereading Boy.

Only four more books (and four more months!) until the end of my Book Challenge 2K16 !