I'd been meaning to read David Walliams ever since I saw that he had published a book back in 2008. I'd even bought this book and had it sitting on my bookshelves, waiting. Now he has published five books, with a sixth to be released this month.
Recently I read this article proclaiming David Walliams as the new Roald Dahl which pushed me over the edge and so I packed The Boy in the Dress in my bag on my recent trip to New Zealand. I was reading Lord of the Flies at the same time, but sometimes when you travel you need something lighter, and The Boy in the Dress was perfect travel fare, and a perfect antidote to Lord of the Flies.
I really enjoyed this gentle, yet funny tale of twelve year old Dennis Sims, living with his depressed, truck driver dad and his older brother.
"I've gotta go boys. I've gotta drive a load of bog rolls to Bradford."
Of course it had to be funny and quirky. Walliams initially came to international attention for his TV comedy show, Little Britain. I was slow to warm to Little Britain, but did end up loving it. There were some truly wonderful characters and moments.
Walliams uses gentle, beautiful British humour to tell this unusual story of a regular soccer playing lad, who feels he is different and likes to read Vogue. It is often laugh out loud funny. Dennis' school teachers are somewhat like those in Dahl's Matilda, but display nowhere near the malevolence of Trunchbull. There are many British references that aren't too distant for an Australian to comprehend- Neighbours, Trisha, soccer and Hob Nobs, and marvellous British words like unutterably, offy and innit.
The thrill of possessing the ball made Dennis forget his cold for a moment, and he weaved his way through the defence and approached the goal-keeper, a luxuriant-haired boy sporting a brand new kit, who was probably called Oscar or Tobias or something.
The comparisons between Walliams and Dahl are perhaps obvious, and certainly having his first two books illustrated by Quentin Blake- who famously illustrated many of Dahl's books- makes this link even more obvious. Walliams openly acknowledges his debt to Dahl, and also the genius of Dahl- he made a fascinating documentary about Dahl sensibly titled The Genius of Dahl (happily all three parts are on youtube, watch them all, it's incredible)- which draws great links between Dahl's early learning of Norwegian fairy tales and the stories he would come to write. It's an amazing video- full of delicious details of his life- he wrote in the morning, and would bet on the horses of an afternoon. I also didn't know Dahl wrote the screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and invented the Childcatcher that wasn't in the book- but it does make sense when you know. Even more incredibly, Roald Dahl was part of a team who developed a cerebral shunt.
Perhaps David Walliams is a natural successor to Roald Dahl, even if he's not I certainly look forward to reading more from both of them.