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Teller of the Unexpected: Roald Dahl, the buried rage and the frightened little boy within

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Need for perfection: Roald Dahl in 1983

Need for perfection: Roald Dahl in 1983

Roald Dahl: Teller of the Unexpected by Matthew Dennison

Roald Dahl: Teller of the Unexpected by Matthew Dennison

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Need for perfection: Roald Dahl in 1983

‘Of the children who people his novels, none possesses two loving parents and material security, or enjoys unchallenged the freewheeling joys of country life that always delighted Roald,” writes Matthew Dennison in his poised life of Roald Dahl. He knew tragedy young, which is why, as Dennison says, “his fiction... has convinced generations of child readers that, in a world of adult menace, the author is on their side”. It was a gift bitterly bought.

When he was three, his sister Astri, seven, died. His father Harald followed a few weeks later. This father — a wealthy, cultured Norwegian who made his home in south Wales — left a strange legacy: orders that his “dauntless, practical and fearless” wife Sofie Magdalene raise his four surviving children — Roald was the only son — in Britain. It’s a curious edict, laying isolation — Sofie Magdalene’s family were in Norway — upon trauma. “Personal experience,” writes Dennison, “beginning with the unremembered traumas of his father and sister’s deaths, would convince Roald of the ubiquity of caprice in human lives.”


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