I read Roald Dahl’s The BFG because it’s on the Guardian‘s list of the 100 greatest novels of the last 300 years. It’s a peculiar choice, as it’s a young adult book and quite short for a novel of any genre, although some of the macabre material makes it unsuitable for the younger part of the YA audience. It’s clever and very funny with a silly plot, and the title character is, for an ugly giant, totally endearing.
The novel begins with the abduction of Sophie, a resident of a London orphanage, by a 24-foot-tall giant who turns out to be one of nine living in a faraway place, and the only one who doesn’t run off every night to snatch people from their beds and eat them. This giant, the Big Friendly Giant of the book’s title, quickly becomes fond of Sophie, but their fast friendship faces a challenge when the BFG learns that the other Giants – including the Fleshlumpeater, the Bloodbottler, and the Childchewer – are planning a run to London to feast on English children during the “witching hour” when all humans are asleep and giants can run amok undetected. Sophie hatches a plan that involves the BFG and the Queen of England, some trickery, and six dozen eggs.
Putting The BFG on their top 100 novels of all time makes the Guardian‘s list look deliberately different or contrarian, but it is still an enjoyable book, mostly for its magical prose. Dahl was an extremely gifted wordplay artist, as the gibberish that comes out of the BFG’s mouth is often inspired, and the book overflows with puns, such as descriptions of how the “human beans” in each country taste (giants like Swedes for the “Sweden sour” taste; people in Panama taste “hatty” while those in Wellington taste of boots; and no one likes Greeks because they taste “greasy”). The explanation of why the giants’ home isn’t in the atlas and the description of the fizzy drink frobscottle are both priceless. It’s maybe a two-hour read and certainly worth the time investment, although I have a feeling I won’t be reading this to my daughter at any time in the next decade.
Next up: Back to friend of the dish Lev Grossman with his novel Codex.