It is very rare that I read a book and once I’m finished I ended up tweeting something like this:
There is no feeling like getting lost in a #book & then emerge to feel the sun, hear the birds & smell lavender as a completely new person.
— Katherine Brown (@kabrown4) April 8, 2017
But honestly when I finished the book and I came back into the world, it was as if I hadn’t been there in my garden feeling the sun, nor hearing the birds tweeting or even within smelling distance of the lavender plant I’m rather fond of running my fingers through.
I’d been in the hot and muggy world of Dar es Salaam where Roald Dahl worked in the 1930s. And I’d been in the sandy Iraqi desert as Dahl trained to be an RAF pilot, and then caught up in the build up of Dahl’s early writing career that started when he worked in Washington D.C. in the latter years of World War Two.
The day before (I’m a fast reader) I’d been wrapped up in a blanket on my sofa immersed in the world of boarding schools and the adolescence of the boy, who wrote to his mother often, and grow and develop into the man whose children’s novels would become a key part of my literary experience when growing up.
I had only picked up the book in the first place because I had loved reading Roald Dahl’s autobiographies ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo’ as a child, and thought it would be an interesting read. Needless to say on learning Donald Sturrock has also written a biography, I’m not going to hesitate in obtaining a copy, and for me that is an extraordinary desire.
I’m not inclined to read biographies generally; I’m just not that interested in reading about the lives of other people in that way. I find the idea to be too much like the obsession that people have with celebrity culture and following every move that their beloved celebrities make. I grew up in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, an accident in part caused by the desire for people to know what she was up to; for me the idea is abhorrent.
Fine I follow celebrities on twitter, but I am exceptionally selective. They are mostly writers I admire, people who make me laugh and people who share similar intellectual tastes. I mainly follow them because they re-tweet articles I know I’d be interested in reading. Or alternatively they are part of professional road race cycling and it is an easy way to keep up with what is going on in the sport.
I guess from that Roald Dahl falls into the category of ‘writers I admire’, so that extraordinary desire to know about his life is in part explained. I’ve also been know to read books by the likes of Stephen King and Terry Brooks about their personal journeys in writing, but these are autobiographical, which I’m less inclined to dislike.
However, this is a proper biography that I now want to read because of these wonderful letters. This isn’t Roald Dahl’s autobiographies, where he had control over the content and what was shared, this is a recent biography written long after his death where the man himself has had no say in what is being shared.
In addition to being an repulsed to celebrity culture and sharing every detail of their private lives, the idea that this might be done to me is absolutely horrifying. I don’t mind twitter because in the majority what is being shared is being done and controlled by the individual themselves. Normally I find biographies, even authorised ones, and the desire for people to read them mystifying because it could never truly be a representation of that person’s life, (this would be the critically trained historian within me questioning the bias).
And that is why after reading these letters my desire to read the biography by Donald Sturrock is so extraordinary. The only reason I can come up with to explain this desire is because on reading these letters I learnt a lot of very new things about Roald Dahl that I never learnt from his autobiographies, and this has sparked my inner critic.
I never questioned what Roald Dahl had shared about his life in his own words; it had never occurred to me to question his own bias or even envision that he had left out key events in his life. I’m fascinated by other writers; generally because I’m usually interested in finding out that I’m not mad, and that my behaviors as a writer are relatively normal. (Cue the collective laughter of writers everywhere who know we aren’t normal people).
Roald Dahl is no exception to that; I grew up enchanted by his stories, and by his descriptions of the Norwegian Fjords, which is one of the few things I have on my bucket list. I’m now enchanted in learning more about what he left out and potentially why. I’m interested as a historian, in seeing multiple perspectives, but equally I’m interested as a writer in seeing just how deeply complex a human being can be.
When I tweeted that I felt like a new person when I finished ‘Love from Boy’ I wasn’t kidding. For that reason alone I would recommend this book of letters. I highly doubt though anybody could have the same experience that I did, so I’ll say this too; this collection of letters from a son to his mother is a lovely correspondence charting the growth of a boy into a man, describing his unique experience of the world and sharing more than one dirty joke. He is tender, blunt, funny and charismatic. This collection of letters is an extraordinary testament to the complexity of human nature told through the relationship a boy forged with his mother through words.
And if that doesn’t pique your interest then I doubt this is a book for you.