There is an interview with Roald Dahl’s widow in this week’s Observer. As you’d expect, titles such as ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and ‘The Witches’ are referred to, but there is no mention of his adult fiction. Did you know he wrote books for adults too?
I haven’t thought about Roald Dahl for years, but he’s the guy who blew my fragile little mind wide open. It was Roald Dahl that first made me appreciate how powerful squiggles on a page could be when carefully sequenced by a skilled craftsman.
I found ‘Kiss Kiss‘ completely by accident on a bookshelf in my parent’s spare room when I was about nine years old. The familiar name on the spine led me to pull it off the shelf, and I quickly became absorbed by the text, anticipating more funny stories like the one about Jim and his notoriously overgrown prunus persica. It didn’t take too many page turns to realise this was something different from the Roald Dahl I was familiar with.
As each story unfurled it seemed more and more like an illicit discovery. With each turn of the page I worried that my parents would enter the room and scold me for reading something I shouldn’t be reading. I finished the book a couple of hours later, my consciousness vastly expanded. Heart pounding, my head was overflowing with images of corpes rotting in broken-down lifts, disembodied brains in vats, and cats thrown onto bonfires. But there was humour throughout; cruel, smirking and wry. Humour at such variance with what I had until then considered funny that I felt guilty and tainted by association.
I climbed the stairs to my bedroom in search of innocent distraction, but all my toys seemed unfamiliar and unappealing, as if they were the property of somebody else with whom I had nothing in common. I went downstairs with the intention of procuring comfort from my mother, but when I found her, I heard myself lobbying for my ‘Superman’ wallpaper to be replaced with something less childish.
I remember having trouble sleeping that night. Not because of the disturbing content of the prose I’d read, but because I kept remembering with excitement that I’d seen more Dahl books on the same shelf.