Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Illustrated by Quentin Blake-  published by Penguin Group , 1988 UK


Winner of Federation of Children’s Book Groups Award


This classic children’s book swept me away and made me laugh out loud. Roald Dahl’s brilliant writing style appeals to readers of all ages- a tale of overcoming- and the triumph of good over evil.  Roald Dahl rightly garners praise to this laudable story- packed with humor, and a pacey plot which keeps readers engaged from start to finish.   Strangely, somehow I had managed to miss reading this book before this time.  I was particularly interested in the authors treatment of the challenges surrounding gifted children.

Matilda is an exceedingly bright little girl.  She is a self directed learner who actively searches out reading materials. Her precocious talents are evidenced in numeracy as well- with incredible demonstrations of her gifts exhibited through completing complex arithmetic problems placed by her teacher Miss Honey and by quickly summing up her father’s sales figures.

Instead of being run down by her overwhelmingly horrible parents- Matilda makes a plan to escape from the confines from her unbearable domestic dreariness.

She resented being told constantly that she was ignorant and stupid when she knew she wasn’t. The anger inside her went on boiling and boiling, and as she lay in bed that night she made a decision.  She decided that every time her father or her mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another.  A small victory or two would help her to tolerate their idiocies and would stop her from going crazy.  You must remember that she was still hardly five years old and it is not easy for somebody as small as that to score points against an all-powerful grown-up.  Even so, she was determined to have a go.

I love how Dahl- takes you into the inner life of the characters- seamlessly switching from thoughts to actions- driving the plot of the book ahead at a rapid pace.  This inclusive technique draws readers in and makes them feel they intimately know and understand the protagonists.  Dahl’s brilliance and humour shines forth particularly when describing his characters :

she watched her skinny little husband

she watched her skinny little husband

…later on, as she watched her skinny little husband skulking around the bedroom in his purple-striped pyjamas with  a pork-pie hat on his head, she thought how stupid he looked. Hardly the kind of man a wife dreams about, she told herself.

Quentin Blake’s amazing illustrations lend a large part to making this book and many of Dahl’s other works exceedingly funny.  His sketchy figures are perfectly matched to Dahl’s style- for me the two are intrinsically matched and it would be difficult to imagine this text with any other art work.

When he got home that evening  he still couldn't get the hat off.

When he got home that evening he still couldn’t get the hat off.

It’s hard to imagine two parents who are less likeable – although they do not physically abuse Matilda and her brother, they are often neglected and subjected to their parents difficult personalities.  We are told Mrs. Wormwood, “was a large woman whose hair was dyed platinum blonde except where you could see the mousy-brown bits growing out from the roots. She wore heavy make- up and she had one of those unfortunate bulging figures where the flesh appears to be strapped in all around the body to prevent it from falling out.

One of the things I really love about reading Roald Dahl is the absolutely hilarious “BRITISHNESS” of his text.   His characters are linked to many modern television comedies-  Little Britain, Monty Python, even The Office all have similar- awkward and endearing English people- eccentric, self-centred, brash and with bad teeth.   Even the landscape is comfortingly familiar.

It was one of those golden autumn afternoons and there were blackberries and splashes of old man’s beard in the hedges, and the hawthorn berries were ripening scarlet for the birds when the cold winter came along.  There were tall trees here and there on either side, oak and sycamore and ash, and occasionally a sweet chestnut.

Dahl’s portrait of Britain- includes the Best of Britain alongside the BEASTLY.



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