Sturrock, in a manner reminiscent of his subject, weaves a compelling narrative, tracing Dahl’s life story from his privileged childhood in Wales, under the gaze of his indomitable Norwegian mother, to his ill-fated career as a WW2 fighter pilot and his subsequent secondment to America as a wartime diplomat and spy. As Dahl stumbles from one unlikely career-path to the next, the reader marvels at his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Opportunities seem to fall into his lap, and soon he is drawn into a glamorous social circle, striking up friendships with such political and literary heavyweights as Franklin D Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway and embarking on liaisons with numerous society beauties before his eventual marriage to Hollywood star, Patricia Neal.
It soon becomes apparent, however, that fortune did not continue to favour Roald Dahl. In fact, one is struck by a sense that he lived a life of two halves. After his sojourn in America, Dahl returned to England and took up his writing career in earnest. It was during this time that Dahl was stuck by a succession of family tragedies, namely the death of his beloved daughter Olivia, the car accident which left his infant son brain damaged and finally the stroke which almost killed his wife. These calamities left Dahl with a distinct feeling that a dark cloud hung over his family – and this feeling of impending calamity never quite left him. Add to this the constant pain he suffered as a result of a wartime plane crash, his struggle to gain acceptance among the British literary establishment, and the clandestine love affair which eventually tore his family apart, the reader is left in no doubt that the life of Roald Dahl was no fairytale.
Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock is published by HarperCollins and is out in hardback now. (Paperback due in Sept 2011).