Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Matilda

Title: Matilda
Author: Roald Dahl
Release Date: 1988? (hard to tell)
Genre: adventure, comedy, children's fiction, British literature, school
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Children's literature
Age Group: 8+ (will probably require some discussion, not a read-alone book for this age)

Summary: Matilda is a very special little girl. She taught herself to read. She knows her times tables. She completely blows away her first year teacher.
Of course, her parents think she's stupid. But then again, they're not much better. Her father is a swindler, and her mother's goal in life seems to be to watch her programmes on TV. Her brother...well he doesn't even merit mentioning, aside from saying that her father seems to think the lad is very bright and has a future in the car selling business.
School, then, should be a safe haven for Matilda to really grow. It's not. With Miss Trunchbull as the headmistress, no child is safe at school. I mean that in a very literal sense. They get throw out windows and hung by their ears. Miss Trunchbull is a very mean woman.
When Matilda sees what Trunchbull does to the other children, and her beloved teacher Miss Honey, the little girl sets her brilliant mind to finding a solution and saving the school. Can she do it?

Word of Warning
  •  Understand that this is classic Roald Dahl. He has a very British sense of humor (snarky, slightly rude/crude). This particular book is full of great insults. None bad words (so far as I know, given my limited knowledge of British English), but some real whoppers, nonetheless.
  • Violence. Children are beaten, hung by their ears, and forced to do miserable things (eating a whole cake, standing in the Chokey (a torture device), and slapped about). This is cartoonish in terms of rules of the universe, which means everyone is fine and not injured, but it can still be rather concerning.
  • Matilda is a completely independent child it seems like. She is not even five years old at the beginning of the book. She goes to the library and reads numerous mature books. She goes off to her teacher's house. She decides to live with her teacher (this, for some reason, requires the consent of her parents).
  • Matilda's parents are stupid, and portrayed as such, and she likes to "punish" them for their stupidity by playing pranks on them.
  • There seems to be a huge role reversal here with Matilda being the "parent" and her parents being the "children".
  • It is implied that a man was killed by his sister-in-law.
  • A trick is played in which it is pretended that a man (who is dead) writes a message on a blackboard to his implied killer.
  • Roald Dahl tends to have a rather snarky slightly negative view of children, but in a more playful way than, say, Augustine's description of babies, or Barrie's description of children as happy, fun, and heartless. Still, one of the harsher words he uses to describe children is "scab" (something to be picked off as soon as possible).

My Thoughts
My first inclination as I was reading this book was to smile a bit and shake my head. Then I laughed a few times. Then I winced while laughing. Then I wondered what the target audience was, since it was getting pretty intense.
Overall, it was a fun book. Roald Dahl can be a bit crude at times when it comes to his language and stories, but he's still good entertainment, and Matilda is no exception.

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