Monday, September 29, 2014

Nasty, dirty things, little girls are

Of the five 2014 Odyssey Award audiobooks (one I had already listened to and the others are here and here [haven't gotten around to Creepy Carrots yet]), Roald Dahl's Matilda was the one I was looking forward to the most. And not just because of its glamorous narrator, but because Matilda is one of those books that one can revisit several times with enjoyment. I've only read the book as an adult, but it has Dahl's anarchic appeal that makes it pretty much for anybody.

Matilda Wormwood is a genius child with extremely bad parents (they make her watch TV!) who learns to read at a very young age. At the library -- where she visits every day instead of sitting at home alone -- once she reads through the children's section, the librarian puts all sorts of books into her hands. Once she's old enough, she's thrilled to be able to go to school. There she meets her wonderful teacher, Miss Honey, along with the terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. But Matilda has powers that help her to best the nasty adults in her life and soon finds happiness with her proper family.

Dahl cheerfully skewers TV (how he hated TV), TV dinners, used car salesmen, self-obsessed adults, sadistic school teachers, plus more that I can't remember in this romp of a story. While Miss Trunchbull's violence toward her students is silly enough to not be threatening, Matilda's revenge on her and on her parents is beyond satisfying and pretty hilarious. What's not to like?

Add to this enticing package the delightful reading by Kate Winslet. Her narration of the text is nice and straightforward, leaving room for a broad range of character voices, full of humor and intelligence. Matilda speaks with a slightly nasal childishness that's very appealing, while Miss Honey has an ingenue's innocence. The Wormwoods are shrieky and bombastic, and the "deep and dangerous" voice of Miss Trunchbull is indeed that. Dahl describes her as physically able to "bend iron bars and tear telephone directories in half," and Winslet helps us to visualize this monster with just her voice. Everyone has a bit of a working-class accent that adds a nice ordinariness to the novel's denizens.

The beginning and end of the novel are marked with a good 60 seconds of sprightly little tune that nicely encapsulates the story -- there's a bit of Miss Trunchbull in a percussive beginning which then segues into a sweeter melody that evokes the triumph of Miss Honey and Matilda.

In addition to the 1996 film, there's also Matilda the Musical. It won both the Olivier and the Tony Award for Best New Musical but do I really want to see the road show (when/if it arrives)? The answer to that is no ... isn't it lovely that Winslet is available practically anytime and at no charge to bring this story to vivid life?

[Perhaps the Wormwoods enjoyed this in front of the TV one night? This TV dinner was uploaded by Smile Lee and retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Matilda by Roald Dahl
Narrated by Kate Winslet
Penguin Audio, 2013.  4:18

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