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Another Triumph, (Although Maybe Not for Those with Dentist Issues)
on 18 October 2015
Quite understandably, David Walliams is the number one bestselling children's author in the United Kingdom. He has been hailed as the heir to Roald Dahl, but for my money he leaves Dahl in the dust.
While I have always appreciated and admired Dahl's books, there is an astringent and slightly nasty undercurrent in some of the books that just leaves me a little bit off, even as I'm enjoying them. I have no problem with the books being unsentimental, dark and a bit macabre, but there's often a hint of contempt or thinly veiled anger that just doesn't quite fit in with everything else. That said, I'll take Dahl over antiseptic cutesy any day.
And that's where Walliams comes in. Just as macabre and grotesque, just as committed to portraying the triumph of the good, young and kind over the old, greedy, and wicked, a Walliams book is sustained by the cheerful, fundamental goodness of his young characters. Just as was the case with Dahl, the stock setup involves adult villains who mistreat children, at least one good adult to help the child heroes, a few completely ineffective adults, and then child heroes who persevere and save the day. The plots are bizarre and extreme, the villainy is outrageously exaggerated, the violence is cartoonishly grotesque, and anything that happens happens to excess. There is child-sized nastiness, farting, tooth-pulling, and icky grossness.
But, Walliams mixes in sweetness, (hero Alfie and his Dad share scenes of heartbreaking tenderness), and a good deal of remarkably restrained deadpan humor. So, manic chase scenes are still loaded with dead funny and crisp throwaway lines and observations. The conversations between Alfie and his compatriot friendgirl Gabz are gems of finely crafted timing and emphasis. Certain set scenes, (Alfie's being comforted by the friendly newsagent Raj after his first dentist visit), are perfectly paced and balanced.
All of this is brilliantly served by the illustrations of Tony Ross, who complements Walliams in the same fashion that Quentin Blake elevated Dahl's work. Ross's drawings capture the moment and advance the story without at all cluttering the text or slowing the narrative, and they fit exactly with the reader's own mental pictures of the characters.
So, whether you call the books clever or funny or zany, or even darkly comic or macabre, they are so well conceived and well executed, and feature such winning child heroes, that you owe it to your child reader to try one on. (Although if you aren't quite sure where your child falls on the ick-tolerance scale you might consider a book like "Ratburger"before this one, which does have a lot of scary demon dentist stuff in it. "Ratburger" just has, well, ratburgers.)
Please note that these books are finally coming up for sale in the U.S., (at least as Kindle books), but I received a free advance ecopy of this particular book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.