Book review: James and the Giant Peach

Jame and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

The mystery is why this was my first reading of James and the Giant Peach. I am 61 years old. The book was first published in 1961 so it’s actually two years older than me. It must have been on the book shelves of the children’s library that was my favourite place to go as a bibliophilic boy. As a child, I read. In fact, reading was pretty much all I did do! My favourite days were the Fridays before bank holiday Mondays because then you could take two books out on a library ticket rather than the usual one, which meant I could borrow eight books rather than the usual maximum of four. But to give you an idea of just how much I would read, I’d normally have finished all eight books by the end of the bank holiday weekend.

Yet in all that time, and among all those books, there were none by Roald Dahl. Now, trying to visualise the library (since closed) in Archway where I went for my books, I am pretty sure there were some by Roald Dahl there. But, for some reason, I must have picked them up, read the blurb, and then put them back again. The only reason I can think of for why I did this is that it was Quentin Blake’s illustrations. I suspect that, as a rather serious-minded boy, I would have found his caricatures off putting. I preferred the more realistic drawings to be found in Enid Blyton books. And then, as I got a bit older, I began to disdain books with pictures. So I think that Roald Dahl fell into the gap between my artistic appreciation and growing taste for more ‘grown-up’ books.

However, the plus side of this is that I can read his books now and come to them completely fresh. And what a delight James and the Giant Peach was. I read it in a morning, while staying at a friend’s house in the country, with everyone else recovering from a surprise birthday party and me settling down upstairs with a book plucked from the children’s (all now grown) book shelf, as the sun shone over the fields.

In particular, the story is a masterclass in drawing characters with a a few words, as exemplified by the caterpillar announcing, “I am a pest,” to James with evident pride. The story is wild, the aunts whom poor James is sent to live with are truly vile, and the giant creatures who travel with him in the giant peach are each marvels of imagination and the writer’s craft. A wonderful book – I will have to read Dahl’s other books!


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