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February Books 1) Matilda, by Roald Dahl



She was a gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of the pupils and teachers alike. There was an aura of menace about her even at a distance, and when she came up close you could almost feel the dangerous heat radiating from her as from a red-hot rod of metal... Thank goodness we don't meet many people like her in this world, although they do exist and all of us are likely to come across at least one of them in a lifetime.

For some reason I had never read this particular Roald Dahl book before. It is rather good. Little Matilda has learned to read at a very young age; school and library provide an intellectual refuge from her comically awful dysfunctional family; it turns out that dysfunctional family relationships are at work among the school staff as well; and there is a happy ending, brought about by Matilda's brief acquisition of psychic powers (slightly reminiscent of Henry Sugar). It is interesting to read a children's book where a terrible family background is actually mere coloration for the real story, rather than being awfully earnest about it all; yes, Matilda's parents are odious and the headmistress is a psychopath, but she looks for things in her life to enjoy, and enjoys them. Quentin Blake's illustrations, as ever, multiply the effect of Dahl's prose.

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