Going Solo- The life of Roal Dahl
A Whimsical Perspective on Life
Roald Dahl is best known for his children's books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and so on, but perhaps his best-written work was his own life story. Going Solo is an appealing, straightforward, and quirky account of the author's exploits as a fighter pilot in World War II. His written voice is calm and matter-of-fact, recounting occurrences almost as though he is an onlooker to his own life's events and placing all emphasis on the situations and characters surrounding him, taking credit for none but embracing them all as requisite elements to his own life's story. Dahl's account is both a personal and historical documentation, as poetic as it is frank, and seems to serve as convincing literary proof that oftentimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Going Solo serves not only as a highly entertaining read but also as an insightful look at the idiosyncrasies of life.
Going Solo is a series of autobiographical stories compiled in chronological order over the span of three years, beginning with Dahl's sea voyage from England to Africa, culminating with his experiences in air combat, and ending with the close of the war and his return to England. Dahl is met with peculiar experiences from day one, and begins relating them on the very first page, wasting no time jumping into a story about witnessing two elderly passengers jogging naked around the deck of the SS Mantola, sparing no detail to prevent any possible embarrassment of his own. The stories range from smaller, more trifling incidents-- a spotting of a herd of giraffes during a car trip to Nairobi, and Dahl's amazement at his own lack of inhibitions when he shouted at them "Hello, giraffes! Hello! Hello! Hello! How are you today?" (79)-- to larger and more serious affairs-- an encounter with German Messerschmitts that forced him to fly so low to the ground he had to actually leapfrog his plane over the small scattered olive trees-- but he writes each tale so enchantingly that all seem of equal importance and entertainment.
Dahl's book, therefore, is no stuffy record of an ordinary life. The events included in Going Solo would be riveting on their own, but Dahl's method of transcription is zestful and creative, adding another fascinating layer of depth to the tales. This is achieved through Dahl's vivacious vocabulary, which enhances every sentence. For instance, he refers to Middle Eastern civilians as a "pack of sunburnt gophers and their bright bony little wives" (3), and while in the hospital, his eyes sealed shut after an almost-fatal plane accident, he writes quite artistically about a nurse-- describing only what he can feel and smell: "I could feel her warm and faintly marmalade breath on my cheek and in no time at all I began to fall very quickly and quite dizzily in love with Mary Welland's invisible image" (111). His colorful language could be attributed to several factors, including his English nationality, the earlier and arguably more sophisticated time he grew up in, but perhaps mostly to his refined skills as a creative author.
Going Solo reads as an account of one man's travels through foreign lands, and his subsequent acquisition of maturity and cultural enlightenment, and suggests that modern convenience has replaced adventure: "Nowadays you can fly to Mombasa in a few hours and you stop nowhere and nothing is fabulous anymore, but in 1938 a journey like that was full of stepping-stones and East Africa was a long way from home..." (1). Although World War II caused so much regrettable damage in many ways both physical and emotional for many places and people, Dahl's story holds no tone of this regret, and is solely heartening through a sense of gain that experience alone is able to bring.
No two lives are exactly alike, and while Roald Dahl's escapades may at times seem more extraordinary than is realistic for an average human, anyone's day-to-day encounters can be as amusing, compelling, heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic, and wonderful in different ways, and Dahl's story is a subtle reminder of the appreciation we should hold for each different circumstance we face within the grander composition of our own complicated individual existences. Dahl's tales, while often entertainingly outlandish, are still relatable through the readers' resulting speculation that life has always been-- and always will be-- a little strange, and the choice is ours to accept and embrace it.
Dahl, Roald. Going Solo. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1986.