Timothy Bazzett's Reviews > Going Solo

Going Solo by Roald Dahl
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Mar 13, 12

Read in February, 2008

Another writer once told me that one of the most important elements to be found in a memoir is a "likeable" narrator. Roald Dahl is perhaps one of the MOST likeable of narrators. Modest to a fault and blessed with a very sly and subtle sense of humor, the story Dahl tells in GOING SOLO, his sequel to BOY, is perhaps one of the most readable memoirs of modern times. His story of the quick and almost informal training he received at a flying school in Africa shortly after Great Britain entered WWII, is hair-raising and nearly impossible to believe, except you do believe, because you trust this man. At six foot six inches tall, Dahl was physically quite unsuited to be a fighter pilot, noting that when seated in the various planes he flew, his knees were nearly under his chin and he had to hunch over to fit beneath the plane's canopy. But fly he did, even after surviving one horrific crash in the desert early on in his career as an RAF pilot. He sustained a very bad concussion (which was to come back to haunt him and finally "invalid" him out of service nearly two years later) and had his face bashed in. As he explained to his mother in a letter: "My nose was bashed in ... and the ear nose and throat man pulled my nose out of the back of my head and shaped it and now it looks just as before except that it's a little bent about ..." Dahl went on to fly many combat missions in North Africa and Greece, usually against vastly superior odds, but somehow he managed to survive until the middle of 1941, when the migraine headaches caused by the aforementioned crash made him unfit for further flying. Dahl's nearly laconic and completely unself-conscious manner of writing about the things he did - absolutely heroic things - made me think of Sam Hynes's WWII memoir of his missions in the Pacific theater. Both writers downplay the importance of their roles. They never speak of heroics or derring-do, only about the importance of their comrades, doing the jobs they were trained to do and trying their best to simply stay alive. This was an enormously satisfying, moving and often hilarious tale. After reading these two slim volumes of memoirs by Dahl, I do wish he had written another. I have ordered his slim collection of stories about WWII already. What a wonderful writer - and gentleman - Roald Dahl was.
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