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Short and charming autobiography centering around Dahl's childhood and adolescence; it follows his usual pattern of covering quite appalling events in entertaining and ironic ways.

Dahl came from a large and loving family of Norwegians living in England, which suffered a serious shock very early in his life when his older sister died of appendicitis, followed a month later by his father dying of pneumonia. His mother, upon his father's death, had two children to raise by her husband's first wife, three surviving of her own, and a baby due in six weeks. Looking back on it, Dahl is justifiably surprised that she didn't sell the house, take the children, and flee to her family in Norway, but she seems to have stuck it out in England with an iron will and a tenacious good humor. His talk about her is admiring and endearing, and she comes across as competent beyond belief, practical, wise, and a master of organizational tactics (she got all of them, and the nanny, to the coastal islands of Norway on summer holidays every year, an undertaking slightly more logistically complicated than siege warfare).

School, however, seems to have been the major problem in his life. His mother took him out of one school because they caned him, and sent him to a highly reputable boarding school-- where they not only caned him more often, but stood over the students writing letters to make sure no one said anything undesirable about the educational environment. His sense of injustice is deep-seated, desperate, and accurate; he happened to be a very good athlete and mentions that he must have been the only team captain at Repton never to be made into a house official, because the faculty knew perfectly well he wouldn't beat the junior students. This goes a fair way for me in explaining the two kinds of adults who appear in Dahl's fiction for children: the good ones, loving, imperfect, and usually economically or otherwise not capable of achieving much, especially in defense of children; and the bad ones, who are rotten clear through and in power and abuse it. This does appear to have been the way adults were to him as a child, and the wounds of school in the 1920s are visible in him writing sixty years later. (And more than visible-- he mentions never having been able to sit on a hard bench for any length of time in later life.)

So this book is an odd combination of terrible things that happened to the author, terrible things he did to other people by way of revenge (a dead mouse in a jar in the sweetshop owned by a woman who hated him; goat droppings in his sister's annoying fiance's pipe), and the usual anecdotes one gets from a happy cheerful large family who all want to be around each other and have gotten very good at it. All told in the same tone of voice, which you wouldn't think would work but does, because the content itself makes the voice ironic or humorous or bitter as the case may be.

I would say, then, that it's enjoyable, and interesting if you like the author; but it is not indispensable as an autobiography, though it is well done, because I have read many books with similar content. The unusual thing is that this time they are all the same book.
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This was yesterday's book, so tomorrow I'll do today's and tomorrow's and then I'll be caught up.

This is a pretty straightforward theatrical adaptation of Dahl's classic children's novel, with most of the text taken directly from the book and many of the more lyrical passages of the book given as soliloquies to the narrator. There are really two things which make it interesting. The first is Dahl's introduction, which describes the rather harrowing circumstances under which he wrote the novel (his infant son had been in a terrible accident, and the child's survival was still in doubt for the entire time of writing; he did live). Dahl describes the book as an act of total escapism which probably saved his sanity, and this does make me understand the novel better.

The other interesting thing is the suggestions for staging, blocking and costuming. George's adaptation is meant to be performed by children, if possible, and is assumed to have a budget of slightly under nothing; given the sheer number of effects that seem to be required, how does one do it?

Well, it's amazing what you can do with cardboard. The suggested costumes for the insect characters are entirely cardboard-based, and I have to say I think they would look pretty good. But the thing that impressed me the most is the giant peach itself: it is incredibly simple and I would never have thought of it.

It's a spotlight. You train the light on the appropriate spot on the peach-tree and make it larger and larger for the growing peach, and then of course when everyone is having scenes inside the peach you have them all standing in it with the other lights down, and when they're having scenes on top of it you bring the other lights up, slap an orange filter on the thing and have them stand just upstage of the light circle. I could see this being very effective indeed and it eliminates ninety percent of the effects from the production in one easy stroke.

In short, then, though this didn't have much new content, it was as I had hoped it would be useful for getting me to think about what goes into making a successful theatrical adaptation.

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