Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Going home is the best part of Going Solo
You can't understand how wonderful a book like Matilda is unless you were a lonely, bright child with very few friends. I mean everyone can appreciate that it's a sweet, cute story about success and beating the odds and tricking the corrupt leader, but until you've set aside your worn copy and stared so HARD at a pencil, struggling to see if you just might be magic like Matilda, then picked up the book again (disappointed in yourself but happy to keep reading and quietly muttering "it's okay, it's just a story") you can't understand how great the book is. It makes me question physics. As an adult. Who is pretty fucking into physics. Because maybe someday I'll feel those little hands pushing out of my eyes and making the world come to life for me. Maybe. Not likely, though.
Anyway, Matilda is the first Roald Dahl book I ever read. I've also happily consumed stories about Willy Wonka and a certain Big Friendly Giant. There were others, I'm sure (I know I at least glanced through The Twits and hated it at 10, but that was the same day my mother had a heart attack so maybe I just wasn't in the mood for a story). I probably should have read Boy before Going Solo, but Going Solo was the book I had so it's what I read.
Roald Dahl makes me feel pretty useless. In fact I'm pretty sure that most RAF pilots make most people feel pretty useless. Especially if they were WWII fighter pilots, because I try to make a difference in the world but I've never literally stopped Nazis from killing people. Which is really the meat of Going Solo. There are quite a few amusing anecdotes that introduce us to the young Dahl in the beginning of the book but by the halfway point you are solid into Nazi fighting. And getting into Nazi fighting actually makes the memoir more pleasant - the amusing little anecdotes have a lot to do with imperialism and covering murder, so it makes the people under discussion a little hard to like.
Dahl comes up looking pretty good through most of the story, and like a prince at the end. Of course it's his book and he was a tremendously talented writer, but it's very much the story of a young man out of this depth who is frustrated and terrified by the world around him and trying to muddle through anyway. His affable voice and self deprecation through the nightmarish things he lived through are bracing and sad at the same time. The final chapter, his homecoming and reunion with his worried mother, was heart-wrenching and is what really made me glad to have read this odd little book.
Dahl, Roald. Going Solo. Puffin Books. New York: New York. 1999. (1986).