As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

March 17, 2014


In his lifetime Roald Dahl pushed children’s literature into uncharted territory, and today his popularity around the globe continues to grow, with millions of his books sold every year.  Granted unprecedented access to the Dahl estate’s extraordinary archives Donald Sturrock draws on a wealth of previously unpublished materials that informed Dahl’s writing and his life. Storyteller is an intimate portrait of an intensely private man hindered by physical pain and haunted by family tragedy, and a timely reexamination of Dahl’s long and complex literary career. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek

Most readers have had some exposure to the works of Roald Dahl. Whether you wore out your dog-eared copy of Matilda, covered your eyes during the scariest scenes in The Witches, or munched on those colorful Nerds candies, you have Mr. Dahl to thank.

If you want to learn more about the legendary Dahl, Donald Sturrock's comprehensive biography is the one to read.  At nearly 600 pages, this authorized tome incorporates letters, interviews, and even the contents of Dahl's writing drawers from his hut at the Gipsy House. Sturrock delves into Dahl's childhood, his past as a wartime spy and his relationships, including his marriage to Academy-Award-winning actress Patricia Neal.  If the "authorized" label gives you pause, give Sturrock, who knew Dahl during the author's lifetime, the benefit of the doubt.  Sturrock clearly admires Dahl and his work; however, this admiration does not stop Sturrock from presenting the negative aspects of Dahl's personality. Ultimately, anecdotes and observations present Dahl as a complex man: a gruff, difficult, unsentimental man of enormous talent, who also possessed the imagination and positivity of a child.  And perhaps--a man who saw his own life story as fluid and subjective.

The most interesting parts to me, as a lover of children's literature, placed Dahl's works within an autobiographical context.  The biography details Dahl's tragedies, including deaths (of his mother and daughter, especially), his wife's stroke, and his son's accident. Sturrock's insight into these events' effect on Dahl's stories is particularly interesting--and creates more sympathy for this complex man.  Dahl's interactions with children as detailed in the text also
build sympathy.  (One highlight is Dahl's letter to a young Keith Olbermann.  Don't miss it!)

If you expect STORYTELLER to fulfill a childhood expectation of Dahl as Mr. Rogers with a typewriter, you are misguided.  However, adults will enjoy this examination of Dahl's fascinating life.  Just keep in mind that anyone who could create Willy Wonka, the Trunchbull, and the BFG could not be without just a hint of darkness mingling with that magic.

Market: Biography, Adult nonfiction
Violence: None
Language: Moderate--the guy had a pretty foul mouth
Sensuality: Nothing too explicit, but some sexual slang and references to Dahl's personal life, the sexual content in his adult works, etc.
Adult Themes: Family tragedy, war, sexuality

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know I'd love this biography! I own a copy each of BOY and FLYING SOLO (Dahl's middle grade memoirs), and I adore them. I'm of the firm opinion that it would take a genius--albeit a quirky one--to write books like MATILDA, THE BFG, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, etc.

Thanks for this terrific review, Julie!