When I saw the prompt for Food for Thought, I nearly panicked. One book? How was I ever going to choose one book? I’ve read so many books in my life, from an early age. I don’t have many books that I reread. I have some that I was very impressed with at the time of reading, but if I could say that one of those was really my favourite? And I’m not like my father who used to reread Lord of the Rings in its entirety annually.
So I was gracious to see the mention of Enid Blyton in the prompt description. I know her. I’ve read her books numerous times. As a child, I loved the books about the twins. I read the Dutch translation from the library, or I would buy them at second-hand bookstores. This meant that I would read their second year, then their fifth year, then their first year, just in whatever order I could get my hands on. As long as I could join their world and go with them on their nightly escapes.
Fantasy for Children
When you look at the other books that I read when I was a kid, you can see a particular genre. The stories I read were by two authors: Roald Dahl and Annie M.G. Schmidt. In essence, these two were quite similar. The books I read were children’s literature. The topics were almost always about kids doing stuff that they weren’t allowed to do, and things in this fictional world were always larger than life.
In a poem by Annie M.G. Schmidt, a woman literally melts because she was standing in the rain, so all that is left is a puddle of clothes. Or in another poem, birds come up with a great idea: they make a bird’s nest of chewing gum. Unfortunately, this soon turns into a sticky mess, so they’ve learned their lesson.
Roald Dahl’s books are roughly in the same way. When you read ‘Charlie’s Chocolate Factory’, bad things happen to the glutinous, misbehaved children. Their punishments are related to their sins and are, in a way, good-natured.
I loved the elements of fantasy in the worlds these authors created. Things that seem plausible, but aren’t in the real world. I recognise that style in my own work too. I hate writing super-realistic stories, so they’re often set in a slightly larger than life world.
Matilda – Like Me
Right, the choice of the One Book. Without further ado: Matilda by Roald Dahl.
I remember receiving a copy of this book from my aunt. She said something along the lines that she hoped I could relate to the story. And I did.
Seeing this book came out in 1988, I must have received it shortly after that. I loved it, because I felt just like Matilda. I, too, was always the smart one, and often misunderstood because of it. I could relate to Matilda’s hardships at home. My situation was not as bad as the main character’s, but I understood her need to escape, her wanting to move in with Miss Honey. Being an intelligent girl, I hoped I could transfer my intelligence to telekinesis like Matilda, but unfortunately, that didn’t work.
And there was one other reason what I liked about this book. The Chokey. Mind you, I had no idea what BDSM was, I was under the age of ten and blissfully unaware regarding everything sexual. But the Chokey turned me on. Maybe I shouldn’t sexualise it that much, but at the very least I was intrigued by it. The idea of being locked up inside such a contraption was incredibly appealing to me.
I never really liked the movie of Matilda much, since it came much later in 1996 and it was so different from what I had formed in my head, but the thing I hated the most was the Chokey. I was so disappointed when I saw that. The nails you see sticking out in the movie are easy to avoid. That was nothing at all like the torture device I had concocted from the text I had read.
Reading to Escape
I can talk about books for hours. There are many books and series that I love, but the ones mentioned here have made a great impression on me, on my life, on my writing style and yes, on my sexual development. I think the books you read in your childhood make the strongest impression on you, even for the simple reason that growing up in the eighties, we didn’t have many sources of entertainment. I didn’t have a GameBoy, and I was only allowed to watch TV on set times, and only the non-violent cartoons. So basically, all I could do was take a book from the shelf and read. And I loved it. I loved escaping into a different world, and especially that of the smart girl from a lousy family, like Matilda. Her story had a happy end, and mine, well, I guess mine too.
Link to an English translation of a poem by Annie M.G. Schmidt: https://irenelatham.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-pond-full-of-ink-by-annie-mg-schmidt.html