This is the fifth book of Dahl’s that I have read. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a good book and I liked it. Fantastic Mr. Fox was all right but nothing to write home about, and The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, though written to draw attention to the problem of dyslexia, tended to lean toward the vulgar in places. James and the Giant Peach was an interesting, if rather fantastic, story, but I did not care for the way that it made most adults seem evil and untrustworthy. Matilda has the same problem.
Matilda is a very precocious young girl whose father is a crooked used car salesman and whose mother is a slob who cares for nothing but soap operas and bingo. And when Matilda goes to school she encounters Miss Trunchbull who is “two-hundred menacing pounds of kid-hating headmistress.” The only adult in Matilda’s life that bears any resemblance to humanity is her teacher Miss Honey. The message seems to be that children really cannot depend on most adults to look after their best interests. The book is filled with euphemisms (heck, darn, golly, gosh, and even a couple instances of “oh my gawd”), but even worse than this, lying seems to be condoned under certain circumstances and Matilda’s acts of revenge to get back at her parents and Miss Trunchbull are presented in a sympathetic way. Yes, I know that evil people exist in the world, sometimes even parents and teachers, but the Biblical response is to love your enemies, not seek to get back at them with revenge.
The story is told in an interesting and very readable fashion, but I was reminded of Cecil B. DeMille’s adage that if a film is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well. If a book is not worth writing, it is not worth writing well. Dahl is a little like what someone said of Harry Potter’s J. K. Rowling, a good story-teller trapped in the body of a bad author. In commenting on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, our friend Dave Pratte said, “This author has other similar books, but some are highly questionable.” Matilda falls into the “highly questionable” category. I did not care for it, and we shall not do it as a read aloud. Also, the book was made into a movie, but the previews did not even look good to us so we never saw it.