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Dahl, Roald Dahl

December 17, 2009

I had been looking forward to reading The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington because what premise, really, could be more interesting? Before he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or any other beloved chidren’s titles- he flew fighter plans, got shot down, and moved in exalted circles, a debonair wounded vet ferreting out information and building support for the Allies’ war effort.

And… I’m a few chapters in…. and I wish I loved it as much as I want to.

The story’s detailed, historically fascinating. There are interesting tidbits- Dahl collaborated with Disney to work on war propaganda films, and films that taught soldiers and pilots to recognize the planes they were to attack. He was a raconteur, beloved at parties. And it’s beautifully researched, richly detailed, all about the complexities of World War II British intelligence.

Did James Bond ruin me for this? Was I just not in the mood for nonfiction?

I wish Gail Collins had written this, instead. I’ve been meaning to review it, but I positively inhaled America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines though it covered an even greater range of crowded detail. 400 years felt like it took only a few hours to read. Like a party crowded with interesting people introduced only in passing, with the promise that going back for a reread would reaccquaint me with any details I missed.

What’s different? How can 400 years of detail, crowded with women, feel more enticing, less overwhelming, than just a few years, no, a few months (I’m just getting started) with one person’s immediate network? Collins deserves a lengthier review… I think I’m a little too in awe of her prose to do that properly just yet.

Writing style? The prose is drier than I’d like, though some of Dahl’s wit comes through. Mostly, I’m impressed with the extent of Conant’s scholarship. But I wish that Dahl had written this account himself– Having read Boy, I fondly remember the way Dahl can take what’s ordinary about his life and make it adventurous and whimsical. And I wish he’d written about his spy/propagandist escapades… turning them into adventures populated with eccentric adversaries.

Setting this one aside unfinished. I feel like I’ve failed the author’s hard work. I may come back to it later.

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